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The Show Must Go On:
Cinema Pioneer Ranjit Singh Seble





Age has not withered his enthusiasm for life and company. This was evident while talking to 73-year-old, Ranjit Singh Seble, recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke Academy Award 2013-14 for his contribution to cinema.

Having joined the family business of film exhibition and distribution in 1960, he is still actively involved.

Hailing from West Punjab, Ranjit Singh’s uncle, Sardar Sant Singh was a film exhibitor there since 1930. Ranjit Singh’s father joined him in 1933 and the family owned several talkies.

After the Partition of Punjab, they moved to Delhi to set up their business.

“I joined my father in 1960 as a part of the touring cinema, which was a big business in those days. This entailed screening of movies in a tin structure for a maximum of six months. We could do it again in the same place after a gap of six months.”

Ranjit Singh is a repository of the vast changes which have occurred in the film industry in general and the exhibition and distribution segment in particular. Referring to the advent of multiplexes in the country he comments, “Despite my experience I could not gauge that instead of having big halls of 1,000-1,200 seats, one could have smaller capacity theatres with 300 to 400 seats. This concept was the real game-changer.”

He goes on to add that “I salute the Bijlis, the pioneers of multiplex in Delhi and the country.”

According to him the limited capacity ensures house-full shows which was difficult in the past. This, aided by the high ticket rates, secures return in virtually the first three days of screening of the film.

According to the veteran, the “eateries in the hall coupled with barring of food items inside generates more revenue. Additional money also flows through advertising in the hall and while screening of the films.”

“Multiplexes will continue to rule the roost as people are fascinated by them and want to be entertained. The single screen will not last -- they will have to adapt to the changes in the market and go on par with the multiplex,” says Ranjit Singh.

He does mention that single screens will continue to thrive in areas where they do not have to compete with multiplex, pointing that “their greatest advantage is the ticket price difference”.

Incidentally, distribution became a part of the family business in 1975 and they had Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as their territories.

Ranjit Singh describes it as a “speculative business with chances of losses”.

The first film which he distributed independently was “Bin Maa Ke Bacche”.

In the past it was smooth operation except when there was a delay in receiving movie reels from Bombay due to flight delay.

“Even if we received the reels on Friday we could reach halls in Delhi and the adjoining areas. For UP I had to hire cars to rush them as the owners would clamour for them.”

Now technology guarantees simultaneous release through electronic transmission of the prints. “When I encountered the UFO system for the first time I felt in my bones that this will revolutionise distribution and hence I adopted it immediately, leading to excellent results,” says Ranjit Singh.

The advent of corporate houses and multinationals in buying of the world film rights spelled a doom for many a distributor with just six to seven left in Delhi.

“I gave up this segment in 1990 as it was not feasible and competitive though others continued,” says the veteran.

“I joined my uncle and father as I was ambitious and wanted name, fame and money,” admits Ranjit Singh candidly.

At present, owning two cinema halls in the country’s capital, he states while rounding off the meeting: “I will continue to work and travel as having been associated with the show business, which goes on eternally.”

[Courtesy: The Hindu Newspaper. Edited for]
September 26, 2014

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