After attending an open-air movie screening, Abhijit Shah came up with a crazy idea—open a drive-in movie theater in his hometown, Bangalore, India. He shared his idea with a few friends and soon, “Under the Stars Cinema” (UTS) was born.
I found Abhijit and UTS through social media and immediately reached out to him for an interview. I wanted to learn how a concept born in 1930’s New Jersey translated into 2019 India—what remained the same and what tweaks were made. Seeing that our interests aligned, Abhijit agreed to answer some of my many questions about his drive-in! Here is some of our conversation.
Who is a part of the UTS Drive-in team? How did you come together to create this drive-in?
Under the Stars DriveIn Cinema is an undertaking of Lonely Cow Entertainment, which has 3 founders: Abhijit Shah (me), Sushanta Patgiri and Vivek Manchanda. Vivek is my childhood friend and I’ve been good friends with Sushanta for close to a decade now. The three of us felt that a drive-in would be great idea in a city like Bangalore where a good percentage of the residents are millennials and the weather is quite pleasant for 7-8 months a year.
Had you been to a drive-in before you created one?
Although we had been to open air movie screenings, none of us had ever been to a drive-in cinema before starting Under the Stars. In fact, apart from UTS, there’s only one more drive-in cinema in India in the city of Ahmedabad.
If you hadn’t been to a drive-in before, what acted as your inspiration? American drive-ins of the 1950s or something else?
Over the years, I had seen quite a few Hollywood movies which contain scenes from drive-in cinemas in U.S., but I never considered opening up a drive-in cinema until 2016, when I attended a movie screening on the rooftop of a mall. It was sort of an epiphany for me: recreate the charm of watching movies under open skies away from the city—and add food trucks and bonfires to the mix. I shared the idea with Vivek and Sushanta. To my surprise, they didn’t think I was crazy, but instead jumped on-board with equal enthusiasm.
We researched extensively to procure the necessary equipment, manpower, vendors and to identify the factors which may have an effect on a drive-in cinema and its operations. We also found out that there used to be a drive-in cinema in Bangalore in the 1970s!
UTS is a temporary drive-in, you and your team set up on certain nights and take it all down after the show. How did you find the perfect space and what is it when it’s not a drive-in?
We began scouting for a venue mid-2017. The idea was to find a place that was on the outskirts of the city (so that people can escape the commotion of the city) but not too far (in case they get lazy). We found a perfect venue surrounded by farms and lush green trees about 30 mins from the city, giving the impression and feeling of being in a village.
Was it difficult to find people interested in going to an outdoor cinema?
You bet! For the first few months, people did not really understand what a drive-in cinema really is, since they had never seen or been to one. However, people understood the drive-in experience after they attended one of the screenings. And being the only drive-in in Bangalore, the word spread around rather quickly.
We’re so glad that most of the customers understand now that a drive-in cinema is not only about the movie, but about the experience as a whole.
How many guests can the UTS drive-in accommodate? Do you see your numbers growing?
We can accommodate up to 300 customers in one screening. The occupancy is usually in the range of 80-90%, depending on the popularity of the movie. Occasionally, we get completely sold out days in advance.
Many American drive-ins are proud of their concession stand food—what are some the best dishes served from your food trucks?
the customers understand now that a drive-in cinema is not only about the movie, but about the experience as a whole.
Great point! Food trucks are quite popular in Bangalore and they serve a variety of cuisines. We have a few food trucks on our panel, and we invite different food trucks for each of the screenings to ensure our regular customers do not get bored of the food. Usually BBQ, Chinese dishes, burgers and hotdogs record the highest sales.
Do you see a potential for more drive-in cinemas around India?
Even though the drive-in cinema is loved by almost everyone, most parts of India have extreme temperatures (48 Celsius/ 188 Fahrenheit is common during summers) and very few cities have pleasant climate for most part of the year. Hence operating regularly is a challenge in most places.
Your website says, “We spend most of our time within the confines of our walls staring at a screen.” Do you notice people putting away their phones and interacting with each other while they’re at the drive-in?
Absolutely! Most of the folks come with their loved ones, settle around a bonfire and watch the movie. We’re pet friendly too, so that’s a reason to put away your phone and play in the big open space. And unlike most normal theaters, people feel comfortable in bringing their family/friends who’re confined to wheel chairs.
We rarely see any folks on the phone, except to take photos. We even see them stargazing quite often because it’s difficult to see many stars in the city, but at UTS, the skies are full of stars.
What would you like the surviving American drive-ins to know about the UTS drive-in?
In a way we owe it to them for inspiring us to take on this initiative that’s so close to our hearts. Nothing makes us happier than customers telling us they had a wonderful, memorable time at UTS. People can connect with the nostalgia and charm that a drive-in cinema offers. It’ll be great if the drive-ins in U.S. get to know about us and how people here in India feel about drive-in cinemas.
Plan Your Visit:
UTS hosts movies and dance parties throughout the year. If you can’t make it to Bangalore to join them, follow UTS on social media to keep up with their theater!