For the longest time, watching big-screen movies has been synonymous with theatre halls located in city shopping centres.
But now Kenyans are turning extra rooms into home theatres costing from Sh750,000 to Sh5 million to enjoy watching movies from the comfort of their velvet seats.
Sameer Ashraf is one of the few Kenyans who has brought the cinema-like ambience and experience into his Nairobi home. The cinema engineer is also the founder of owner of NXT Cinema, a company which builds home theatres.
On the second floor of his two-storey house in Nairobi, there is a modern cinema room, black and burgundy in colour. He has added a five-seater couch and a 140-inch TV screen size. In some homes, clients request massive screens that are beyond 300 inches.
“I am involved with the science of sound as well as the science of generating digital imaging,” he says.
Mr Ashraf’s business started from his passion for cinema and sound.
“You know the sound in cinema is different, we use the acoustic panels to control the sound and provide a true experience and a replication of what the movie director wanted you to feel,” he says.
Apart from the main speakers connected to provide sound, he also uses acoustic panels placed around the room to provide a 360 sound delivery.
“I hide the sound system behind the screen fabric to bring out an authentic view that enables one to focus mainly on the screen,” he adds.
Cinema halls are always painted in dark colours to avoid light reflection but Mr Ashraf says you do not have to use the common colours.
“Your cinema room doesn’t have to be boring, you can use a two-tone dark colour design like mine, a combination of burgundy and maroon and it looks beautiful,” he says.
Cinema rooms must have carpets. The carpet is not for decoration purposes only, it needs to be fluffy and very soft so that the sound bounces on it before it gets to the viewer.
For seats, there are special cinema seats that are specifically made for comfort. Depending on the size of the room, one can put three or 10 seats.
“My clients vary on their material choice, some prefer leather fabric others want the soft fabric. Entertainment is not like a basic need, it’s a choice and form of relaxation that brings family and friends together,” he says, adding “Most of the people who invest in cinema rooms have bought their own apartments or maisonettes and want quality entertainment.”
Harshal Patel, a Nairobi resident also owns a home theatre. “The experience is like nothing else. Even when you go to a commercial cinema you don’t get the same experience. So if you are a movie fan and you like creative content it brings you a lot of pleasure to see the full depth of the visual and sound,” he tells BDLife.
Mr Patel and his family installed their home cinema during Covid-19 time where they found themselves spending family time indoors due to the curfews and travel restrictions.
“Since we did not have any extra room we went for one of the bedrooms for the home theatre installation. It fitted to a five-seater setup which turned out amazing, it’s not what we expected. Our cinema room is like an escape room, everything feels different in there, trust me despite the busy schedules we manage to visit the room like three times a week,” he says.
The room is used a lot more than they initially thought it would. They noticed a big difference from watching the normal TV, “it’s not as thrilling as watching from their 140-inch cinema screen.”
“It cost me close to Sh5 million,” he says.
Kajal Shah’s home also has a cinema room. Hers has a combination of grey and maroon interior colours, and a five-seater leather couch imported from US-based La-Z-Boy furniture manufacturer, to match the interior she wanted.
The room also has speakers installed on the gypsum ceiling and others around the room with her 130-inch screen. “We started off thinking we would put a small cinema but my husband loves his football matches, my son loves movies and we have a very beautiful space. We thought why don’t we put our entertainment unit and use it as a games and movie room all in one,” she says.
Initially, the Shahs were not sure whether they would set it up as a home theatre since they are in an apartment and feared the noise would disrupt neighbours.
“Our apartment is 4,500 square feet, the cinema room was meant to be a family room where we would have a temple space and a home library but we converted it. It’s also a very private family room, we have a separate area where our guests come in but the minute we close these doors it becomes our private space,” she says.
“We’ve installed one of the best cinemas in East Africa I can say, in a flat system. The speakers and sound effects take you away completely and the way the room was done is brilliant,” she adds.
Her sound system works in three dimensions, around you, above you as well as the vertical plane and that makes it even more immersive when watching a movie.
“The only thing I requested Sameer [the cinema engineer] in this project is to let me choose the colour of the room. I did not only want it as my cinema room it also acts as a lounge space. Once I draw the curtains and there is light coming in it automatically changes,” she says.
The room that cost the Shahs Sh2 million does not yet smell of popcorn and Coke, and does not require tickets, but it has become where the Shahs hang out to wind down.
“The funny thing is we have stopped going out, we watch all our movies at home, we have popcorn at home with our movies and have friends come over all the time and it has become a very nice comfy space to the extent going out is now a cliché,” she says.