Talkies-on-truck become new craze in rural India

Sushil Chaudhary, the man behind PictureTime, is driving talkies on his trucks to doorsteps of rural homes at affordable rates, making its audiences have a feel of city-like multiplexes in these AC vehicles

I recall the very first time I met Sushil Chaudhary, I felt as I was facing one of the Bollywood’s leading hero of the 60s and 70s, Biswajit Chatterjee, a yesteryear’s heart-throb. The resemblance was so stark that I had to actually ask that does he have any direct or indirect connection with Biswajit? “No…not at all…I am a trained computer engineer, hailing from Uttar Pradesh and now residing in New Delhi.” Thereafter, we met on a couple of occasions and each time, Sushil came across as one of those quiet introvert sorts engrossed with work and his family. 

Recently, when I saw his photographs flashed in the national dailies, sitting with Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and film director Satish Kaushik, I got in touch with him. After all, this unassuming man has launched ‘PictureTime’ which is about driving talkies on modified trucks to the rural belts of India!

To know about PictureTime in details, I asked Sushil about his off-beat projects. How and when he thought of taking entertainment to the people living the rural belts of India or taking films right at their doorstep in a remarkably affordable way?

Sushil explained that he had been observing for the last few years how “India is a severely under screened nation and the high real estate prices and cumbersome regulatory process to set up the cinema theatre pushed me to think beyond. Hence, the product DigiPlex came into being. I wanted to have portable, real estate independent, low on regulatory compliances and ready to have new release films platform and PictureTime is a solution to the above.”

With hundreds of films and millions of filmgoers, it seems unbelievable that we are lagging behind in terms of film screening platforms! But Sushil argues with facts and figures, “If you look at the current screen density in India, it is very low. And, the numbers have come down drastically from 25,000 screens to around 11,000 at present. While cable television and digital revolution played their role has declined, the main reason in my view was that single screen cinema theatre business could not adapt itself to the changing times. So, in rural India, the ‘tambu talkies’ format started dying. While multiplexes have taken over the market in the metros and mini metros, it’s not penetrated in rural India which is deprived of the grand cinematic experience. With the mobile DigiPlex concept, I am attempting to revive the cinema experience in every town and village in the remotest part of India.”

PictureTime was launched in 2015 at the Goa Film festival and thereafter, operations were running, that is when PictureTime started screening films in the rural belts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. But, the big formal start-off of PictureTime was held on May 9 in New Delhi with the screening of two movies: A Billion Colour Story by Satish Kaushik and Pinky Beauty Parlour by Akshay Singh.

It was heartening to know from Sushil that PictureTime is already expanding its base, taking movies to our countrymen living in the so-called conflict zones of the country. “We are in the planning stage for expanding in the Northeast, J&K and other Naxal impacted states and will roll out our DigiPlexes in a couple of months to these areas.”

Talking about the hurdles he and his team face, he said, “The biggest challenge is operations in the rural belts. We are trying to hire locals, wherein, we train local staff to learn the setup operations and slowly with the help of Local ITI’s we are overcoming this challenge. We have an end to end monitoring system for all the screenings.”

On the Bollywood’s reaction on the PictureTime, he said, “Bollywood has loved PictureTime, famous actors like Shraddha Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Tapsee Panu, Satish Kaushik, Boney Kapoor have appreciated the concept after experiencing it… Satish Kaushik is planning his next release on PictureTime… Film producers feel that this is going to be boon for this industry, especially for regional cinema and producers …Annually 2,000 movies are produced across India and less than 400 find theatrical release. We hope to have 3,000 trucks by the end of this year and the numbers will keep increasing. Then we can help with more films being released and producers are happy with this prospect.”

Seeing the overwhelming response, he plans to expand, taking entertainment to as many rural stretches as possible. “In cities, people rarely watch a movie more than once. In the rural areas, they watch a movie many times over. We have 55 percent occupancy…when I am asked, what is the milestone I see in next three years? My answer is 3,000 units in three years and issuing IPO in 2021.”

PictureTime does carry essential ingredients to attract the masses-average price of the tickets between 30 and 50, sitting arrangement akin to that of an air-conditioned theatre and popcorn and cold drinks available at market price.

What a journey for this young man. Starting off from a small town of Uttar Pradesh, Sushil Chaudhary first travelled to Latin America to work in the IT sector and then came back to New Delhi and set up PictureTime…However, even now one more role is left to be played by him, that of young Biswajit Chatterjee! Yes, the resemblance is so stark that any Bollywood producer could sign him! I am more than tempted to forecast his future: ‘Picture Man’ manning ‘PictureTime .

As I end this column, I sit wondering why young men and women of our country don’t try to reach out to those living in the conflict zones and rural belts of India. We should reach out to them in any given way-low cost entertainment, sanitation, healthcare, literacy, counselling, food and drinking water facility or simply spread around the basics to a secure and peaceful and  hassle- free day to day living.