By Ramesh Mathew/Staff Reporter
A large number of Asian expatriates are unable to catch their favourite movie stars in action these days as the landmark Gulf Cinema complex has downed shutters, at least for now.
While those who run the complex say the closure is only temporary as some “urgent work” is being undertaken to renovate the place, nobody seems to know when it will reopen.
The theatre complex on C-Ring Road in Najma - which houses two halls, Doha Cinema and Gulf Cinema - has been the prime source of entertainment for a sizeable section of Asian expatriates for years. As a result of the closure, the number of halls screening films of their choice, mostly movies in various Indian languages, have reduced. Besides, many of these cinegoers cannot afford to pay the high ticket rates charged at some of the multiplexes.
At present, Indian films are screened at two halls in a city multiplex, which can accommodate barely 75 people each, and another even smaller hall at a multiplex in Al Sadd. Residents say these are inadequate to meet the requirements of movie lovers in the Asian communities, who constitute the biggest section of the country’s cinegoers. In comparison, the two halls in the Gulf Cinema complex have a combined capacity of more than 1,600 seats.
Asked if the twin theatres would reopen and when, a senior official of Qatar Cinema and Film Distribution Company (QCFDC) - which operates the complex - said he could not confirm anything at this stage. He said some “urgent work” was being carried out at the place as part of the revamp plan, but could not elaborate on what kind of renovation was being undertaken. “The only thing that I can confirm now is that the complex will not be demolished immediately,” the official added.
The Gulf Cinema complex used to attract scores of expatriate viewers, particularly those from South Asia, every week. The viewers included families as well as bachelor groups, the latter being a common sight at the twin theatres almost every evening.
Many of them were relieved when they saw the sign “closed for maintenance” outside the complex about a fortnight ago. For, they felt that the theatres needed urgent repairs. Some even doubted if the complex had been cleaned properly over the past year. “We hope the management will change the seats in Doha Cinema, which are in extremely bad condition. It should also properly maintain the two halls and provide us with clean, healthy and hygienic conditions,” a cinegoer said.
While several members of the Asian communities feel ticket rates at the multiplexes are unaffordable, there are others who don’t mind paying more at the malls for a better cinematic experience. The latter argue that if the operators of the “dilapidated halls” in the Gulf Cinema complex can charge as much as QR25 for the highest class, there is no harm in paying a bit more to watch films in the multiplexes, which have better seats and facilities and are also properly maintained.
Moreover, there has been a steady rise in the number of viewers in the city’s multiplexes over the past 7-8 years, say residents. A growing number of well-heeled Asians prefer to watch films there than in the “rundown” Najma complex.
Replying to this newspaper’s inquiries yesterday, an official from the QCFDC admitted that the group could not afford to close down the Gulf Cinema complex for an indefinite period. For, it was the main source of income for the shareholding company, which was expecting a major revamp in its composition after a top media company acquired a considerable stake in the QCFDC.
What is also worrying for the Gulf Cinema authorities is that the Civil Defence department has not allowed any stage shows there for nearly nine months. This despite the fact that the management reportedly put in place “superior” safety measures. The decision came soon after the devastating fire at Villaggio last year. Such stage shows and similar events used to bring considerable revenues to the company as they were regular features among the Asian expatriates.
While there were reports that some new halls in the under-construction Bachelors’ City - in the eastern side of Doha’s Industrial Area - were ready for opening, the management denied the same yesterday. “They are not yet ready,” said a Barwa official.
Meanwhile, while many residents want the authorities to renovate the Gulf Cinema complex, they want this to be done fast so that they can go back to watching films in their favourite twin theatres.