It was the wrong time to get into the movie-theatre business. A few years after Krishan Mohan, the patriarch of the Delhi-based Bijli family, bought Priya Cinema in 1978, the VHS boom engulfed the country. Thanks to the late PM Rajiv Gandhi’s liberal import policies in the 1980s, VCPs and VCRs suddenly became available at affordable prices. The middle class and the rich sat in their living rooms and bedrooms and watched Bollywood and Hollywood movies on pirated and original video cassettes. Cities and small towns were soon dotted with video libraries that rented them out. Not many wanted to go to cinema halls.
At that time, theatres had single screens with five daily shows. As video cassettes wrecked the theatre business, most halls were rendered decrepit with lack of upkeep. Strangely, cinema tickets were included under the Essential Commodities Act those days, and their prices capped at Rs 10-12. Every state had its own ceiling price, and entertainment tax was as high as 100 per cent. “These factors left the entire film theatre circuit—then comprising around 10,000-odd screens nationwide—without much profits, and the halls suffered,” remembers Ajay Bijli, Krishan’s son and founder of the PVR Group. “There was no air-conditioning, neither did owners invest in upgrading sound or projection technology.”