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Posted at: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM; last updated: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM (IST)

Jalandhar’s film distribution hub dying

Varinder Singh in Jalandhar
Vaqt ne kia kya hasin sitam, tum rehe na tum, hum rahe na hum — that was from Guru Dutt’s immortal Kaghaz ke Phool. That’s the song you recall as you walk down Mandi Road in Jalandhar, the once Bollywood film distribution centre. The place wears a deserted look with only a few posters of Bhojpuri films pasted here and there. Digital & wireless technology, cineplexes, and financially robust MNCs and big players have stolen the march over the 70-year-old hub.

Mandi Road has seen far better days: it was the ‘mecca of film distribution’ in India following migration of about 50 distributors from Lahore in the aftermath of the Partition. It was a golden time for Mandi Road distributors: the golden period of Indian cinema was at its peak. In the ’70s cinema owners queued up in front of top distributors’ offices. 

Top film producers and stars of the day — Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra,  Sunil Dutt & Nargis Dutt, Manmohan Desai, BR Chopra and Yash Chopra and OP Ralhan — frequented the place. Mandi Road turned out to be the highest revenue grosser for film producers through the 70s, 80s and even the 90s as the five distribution territories —Punjab (Mandi Road), Delhi & UP, Bombay-Maharashtra-Saurashtra, Bengal, and central India (Rajasthan and MP).

It is ‘sunset years’ now. The number of film distributors has come down from nearly 425 to a mere 20-25. And most of them want to set up their own networks by tying up with big production houses and cineplex chains such as PVR Cinema, Cinemax, Eros, SRS, Wave Cinemas and Mukta Cinemas. 

“Big MNCs and production houses have taken over. This cottage business of Jalandhar is almost on its last legs,” says Dharam Pal Arora, president of the Northern India Motion Pictures Association. Paramaout Film Distribution, the company co-owned by Arora, had distributed and run some of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters such as Naseeb, Desh Premi, Amar Akbar Anthony, Coolie, Parvarish and Lagaan. 

In business for about 60 years, Ajit Kumar Sharma alias Billu Shah (83) is the owner of VIP Enterprises. “It became very difficult to stay afloat when cable TV channels started airing nearly 550 films daily just for peanuts. People are now hooked to their mobile phones where they have a choice to watch a lot of free films,” says Sharma who was associated with Bimal Roy films and was a distributor of films like Devdas (old). 

Girish Kalra, a second-generation distributor and owner of Mahalakshmi Films, sent out prints of Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Devdas, Yashwant of Nana Patekar and many others in Punjab territory. He blames the new technology, which has enabled filmmakers to send many prints to the cinemas via satellite, responsible for the decline of the ‘good old’ business of Jalandhar. 

“There was a time when we bought the distribution rights of big films only for Rs 50-60 lakh. Today we’d need Rs 15-17 crore. How can anyone run the show in such circumstances?” asks Arora. All that the distributors are left with now are memories. Arora says GST of 18 per cent on over Rs 100 ticket, too, has added to the woes of the distributors. “Punjab was exempt from the entertainment tax, which was a big relief. Today, we need to work with newer ways to keep pace with the changing times,” says Arora.

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