Sky is the limit: Open-air cinemas gaining ground

- April 1, 2024
| By : Tanisha Saxena |

Al fresco theatres offer a unique and enchanting movie-watching experience under the vast night sky, allowing viewers to socialise and connect

MOBILITY: Open air cinema is essentially a makeshift cinema

“Nestled in a plush bean bag beneath the vast expanse of the night sky, I found myself fully immersed in the timeless romance of ‘Notting Hill’ at an open-air cinema. With delectable snacks within arm’s reach and an ambiance of pure cosiness enveloping me, the movie took on an entirely new depth. Surrounded by fellow enthusiasts of the silver screen, we shared laughter, shed tears, and collectively savoured the experience, forging memories that will endure beyond the closing credits,” recounts Kartik Anand, a 28-year-old corporate professional in Gurugram, who recently indulged in the cinematic magic of ‘Notting Hill’ at the DLF CyberHub amphitheatre, which was transformed into a haven for outdoor cinema aficionados by the Sunset Cinema Club. 

The DLF CyberHub amphitheatre is just one of the many open-air cinemas that have come up in Delhi NCR recently.

A Tradition Re-Imagined 

Open-air cinemas are not new to Delhi. 

Jatin Parveen, an independent director and writer, highlights, “The history of outdoor cinema in Delhi dates back to the mid20th century. One of the earliest initiatives was the ‘Moonlight Movies’ in the 1950s by the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC). It was aimed at providing entertainment to residents during the summer months by screening films in open-air venues across the city. One such venue was Nehru Park, located in the heart of Delhi. The NDMC organised regular film screenings at Nehru Park, attracting large crowds who enjoyed watching movies under the stars.” 

Soon, other parks, gardens, and public spaces in Delhi also became popular venues for outdoor cinema events. These screenings were organised by various cultural organisations, film societies, and even commercial entities. 

These events, which showcased a wide range of films, from classics to contemporary releases, fostered a sense of community among the attendees.

Where Culture Meets Comfort 

Unlike the conventional confines of a movie theatre, open-air cinemas offer patrons a sense of freedom and relaxation. Attendees lounge on cosy bean bags or sprawl out on picnic blankets spread across manicured lawns, creating a laid-back atmosphere.

Sunset Cinema Club, a popular outdoor movie experience in Delhi since 2016, add more sparkle to the city’s entertainment scene. They choose cool spots like parks and rooftop bars for screenings, giving viewers a unique setting against Delhi’s skyline. 

Sonia, 29, from Sunset Cinema Club explains, “Sunset Cinema Club (SCC) offers tickets for its outdoor cinema experience, allowing moviegoers to enjoy classic films under the starlit sky. Tickets can be purchased for specific screenings, with seating allocated on a first-come-firstserved basis. SCC offers a diverse array of venues across Delhi NCR — from the vibrant atmosphere of DLF Cyberhub to the serene setting of Candor Techspace in Noida, and the convenient location at East Delhi Mall, each venue promises a distinct ambiance for moviegoers.” 

Sonia adds that SCC provides the option to book personalised on-screen messages in advance.

Priya Khanna, regular attendee, highlights, “There’s a sense of magic in watching a film under the open sky. It’s a perfect blend of comfort and entertainment, and the ambiance is simply unmatched. I frequently book shows online. The experience is unparalleled. Moreover, the films that they screen are a mix of old classics and commercials. The last film I watched under the starry skies was ‘Jab We Met’. I can’t put the feelings in words. The concept is truly adventurous.”

Community And Connection 

Open-air cinemas also serve as catalysts for community engagement and social interaction. Families, friends, and strangers come together to share in the collective experience of cinema, forging bonds and fostering a sense of belonging. 

VIEWING: The DLF Cyber Hub has become a sought-after location for the screening of open-air cinemas

‘Kota Factory’ actor, Sachin Vidrohi shares, “I recall a time back in 2003 when financial constraints led my brother and me to partake in communal film viewings in our hometown. Those gatherings, with old films on VCR and new releases on CDs, were a staple of our evenings, accompanied by the comforting glow of an old TV. With around 50 members, owing to the joint family culture, those moments held a special charm. Fast forward to today, and I see the transformation brought about by projector technology. While the number of attendees may have dwindled due to changing family dynamics, the advancements in picture quality and sound have undoubtedly elevated the viewing experience.” 

Vidrohi was effusive in his praise of the concept of open-air cinemas. 

“I can’t help but feel excited. These events represent more than just movie screenings; they are about creating magical experiences in outdoor settings. Cosy seating, a gentle breeze, and stars twinkling above as one immerses oneself in cinematic wonders, be it timeless classics or the latest blockbusters,” says Vidrohi. 

What sets these open-air cinemas apart is the additional value they offer. Carefully curated film selections ensure a blend of nostalgia and novelty, fostering engaging discussions and community connections. From tantalising food and drink options to the sense of camaraderie under the night sky, these gatherings redefine the movie-watching experience. 

Rajesh Singh, 37, a resident of Gurugram, says, “I have forged countless friendships at open-air cinemas, bonding over shared cinematic experiences. It’s a refreshing departure from the isolation of traditional theatres.” 

At SCC, they showcase a lineup of iconic classics and cult favourites, inviting audience to indulge in nostalgia. 

The films that resonate with the 1990s and early 2000s era, such as ‘Home Alone’, are screened annually around Christmas. In fact, SCC invite audience recommendations, often determined through social media polls. 

Embracing Diversity Through Film 

Open-air cinemas in Delhi are committed to providing diversity in programming. From timeless Bollywood classics to thought provoking international documentaries, these outdoor theatres celebrate the richness and diversity of cinematic storytelling from around the globe. 

Maya Verma, 62, a Vasant Kunj based film enthusiast, says, “Openair cinemas provide a platform for showcasing a wide range of films that reflect the diverse tapestry of our society. It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore new perspectives and appreciate the beauty of global cinema.” 

Navigating Challenges In The Open 

Despite their growing popularity, open-air cinemas in Delhi face unique challenges, f r o m unpredictable weather patterns to logistical hurdles. Yet, organisers and attendees remain resilient. 

COMFORT ZONE: Bean bags are used for seating to make the viewing experience comfortable

Rishi Srivastava, 40, an independent event manager in Vasant Vihar, highlights, “Operating an open-air cinema presents various challenges that require careful consideration and management. Weather fluctuations, including rain, wind, and extreme temperatures, pose a constant risk to equipment and audience comfort. Securing permits and adhering to local regulations is essential but can be a complex and time-consuming process. Technical setup demands meticulous planning.” 

Access to reliable power sources, according to him, is often a logistical hurdle necessitating the use of generators or alternative solutions. 

“Maintaining security for both attendees and equipment, particularly during nighttime screenings, is paramount.” 

Rishi, with his 15 years of experience in moderating events across Delhi NCR, says, “Effective marketing strategies are crucial for attracting audiences to outdoor events. Managing logistics such as seating arrangements, ticketing, and concessions require thorough planning and execution. Noise pollution from surrounding areas can disrupt the viewing experience and must be mitigated. Considering the environmental impact, waste management, and minimising disruption to local ecosystems are vital considerations.” 

Selecting suitable screening locations is crucial for the success of open-air cinema events. For instance, opting for venues like the DLF Cyber Hub Amphitheatre demonstrates strategic foresight due to its proximity to office complexes, attracting working professionals seeking relaxation and leisure activities after work hours. Identifying locations with high foot traffic and potential target demographics enhances the event’s visibility and attendance rates, contributing to its overall success. 

Additionally, considering factors such as accessibility, amenities, and ambiance further amplifies the appeal and convenience for attendees. 

Other Initiatives 

Noida-based, Drive Camera Action once revolutionised the movie watching experience with their innovative concept of drive-in cinema. With over 100 car accommodations, they provided the best private space to indulge in blockbuster movies and new releases. Their dedication to providing a superior cinema experience with high-quality sound, affordable prices and delicious freshly-prepared snacks made them a favourite destination for families. The projection booth was equipped with the latest digital technology and Dolby Digital sound. 

BLOCKBUSTERS: Open air cinemas usually show classics and cult films

Although no longer operational, Drive Camera Action remains a fond memory for those who experienced its unique charm. 

Delhi-based engineer, Naveed, 31, who was working in Noida in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, shares, “During the pandemic, drive-in movies were a hit – a fun way to watch movies while staying safe in your car. But later, they lost their shine. Traffic got crazy, and it was a hassle to get in and out. Plus, regular theatres re-opened, so people went back to those. Still, those drive-in movie nights were pretty cool till they lasted.”