There are different types of movie aficionados - some don’t miss the chance to see one as soon as it's out in the theatres, others invest in a home theater setup to enjoy them once they’re out on Blu-ray or on popular online streaming services. And then there are mere mortals in between, who wish that they had a time machine to go back and catch their favourite movie on the big screen, when it was still showing in cinemas.
PVR’s Vkaao is a concept that, if successful, will let you watch your favourite films in the same PVR theatres in India where you watch new releases. Here’s how it works - you can ‘create a screening’ on Vkaao.com or the Vkaao Android/ iOS apps, or ‘join a screening’ created by someone else. These screenings are open for anyone to sign up for - and once a minimum target for the hall is met, the screening gets confirmed. If you’re creating a screening, you choose from the selection of movies on offer, and even get to select the date, time slot, theatre location, and pay for your own ticket.
Based on these choices, Vkaao will show the minimum number of people that will need to join your screening for it to be confirmed. Like backing a project on Kickstarter, if the minimum requirements are met, the screening is confirmed, and if not, people who’ve paid for their ticket get a full refund. The catch is that there are no refunds if the screening is confirmed, and you can't back out - you only get the money back if the screening didn't get enough support. At the moment, the service is available in over 15 states across the country, in select PVR theatres within cities.
At the time of writing, Vkaao had 380 movies, out of which a major chunk were English and Hindi movies, with some offerings in other Indian languages too. Sorting English titles by popularity, we could see newer releases such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Whiplash’, ‘Her’, and an old classic like ‘Gandhi’ from 1982, among others. The Hindi catalogue included movies such as ‘Gangs of Wasseypur 2’, ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’, and older films like ‘Silsila’.
The interface has several filters to narrow down to your movie of choice - the catalogue can be filtered by ‘Award Winners’, ‘Genre’, ‘Release Year’ and even ‘Only 3D Movies’, if you’re into 3D. There’s also a ‘Movies You May Like’ that shows some suggestions, but we’re not exactly sure what Vkaao is basing those suggestions on, since they show up even without logging in, from the very first time you visit the site.
The first obvious question that comes to mind is the success rate of a listing actually turning into a screening. Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, Joint Managing Director, PVR group believes that “about two-thirds of the screenings will get confirmed, especially for the ones lined up on weekdays. Thresholds have been kept low keeping in mind this kind of success rate.” Vkaao’s interface also strongly recommends creating a screening on a weekday for higher chances of success.
But when asked about the success rate of weekend screenings, assumingly when movie theatres see the most footfalls, Bijli said, “Except for blockbuster weekends, there is a good chance of screenings getting confirmed. We have typically chosen the smallest auditoriums to ensure that the thresholds are not unrealistic." Vkaao was made available for public use on January 20, and none of the tens of screenings available for joining in Mumbai today are anywhere near their fulfilment threshold.
For a successful weekend screening, a lot of people might need to participate. For example, upon trying to select ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ on a Saturday evening two weeks from now, the minimum bookings ranged anywhere from 15 to 181, depending on which PVR theatre we chose in Mumbai. Prices too ranged anywhere from Rs. 110 to Rs. 800 per ticket, again depending upon which theatre you choose. The higher side of the price point gets you ‘gold class’ screens, that have facilities like better seating. Bijli says that the pricing is on par with average ticket prices for current movies. Of course, you don't need to buy all the tickets yourself - that's the whole point of Vkaao.
Let's say you wanted to watch the genius that is the Top Cat movie in PVR Forum in Bengaluru - you'd require 56 tickets to be booked for the afternoon show on Republic Day, at Rs 220 each. You, and your friends could account for a part of that, and then you could share the links on social media to find others who were interested in the film as well. And anyone else coming to the Vkaao site or app and looking for options in Bengaluru would also see the screening, so if there are enough like-minded people, your screening could well get confirmed, without having to pay more than the regular price of the tickets.
Vkaao suggests that to increase chances of a successful screening, users should choose screenings at least a couple of weeks in the future. It's worth noting that the interface itself could use some work - for example, Vkaao's site says that the minimum time you have to give for a booking is seven days - but the calendar shows you all dates from the next day onwards, and in fact, showed us that the very next day would have the highest probability of working out. These kinds of silly mistakes need to be addressed. Also, the Web interface freezes from time to time, forcing us to reload the page. In a five minute visit to the site, this happened twice.
There’s also a ‘special occasions’ option, for booking an entire theatre for a particular screening. This feature can come in handy for say, organisations that want to take their employees out for a fun movie experience. Or for the wealthy to book the entire theatre for birthday parties, as Vkaao suggests on its website. In general, the idea behind Vkaao is pretty interesting, but the experience is presently pretty cumbersome, and the catalogue fairly limited. Add to that the fact that you're trying to make movie bookings up to a month in advance, without knowing whether or not it will actually work out, and things get fairly complicated. The whole experience might need to become a lot simpler before it can catch on.