Theatres to re-open, at last! Film industry reacts to 50 percent limit

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Even as production resumed over the past couple of months on films, with a host of Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) in place, their ultimate destination had its doors closed — the cinemas. It has been more than six months since they had to shut down due to the Covid 19 outbreak, and demands to reopen them had been intensifying by the industry people. On September 30, the Ministry of Home Affairs finally allowed movie theatres to reopen with 50% capacity from October 15, in areas that fall outside containment zones.

IS 50 PERCENT CAPACITY ENOUGH?

Trade expert Atul Mohan believes 50 percent occupancy should be enough to test the waters.

“It’s a relief with 50 percent discount. Also, it all depends on the states, if they want to participate. Anyway except for weekends, for big films, and for some particular time slot, on weekdays we have seen occupancy as low as five percent, and on weekends it goes up to 90 percent too, but not at all theatre properties or for all shows,” he says.

What if even in that 50 percent cap, people are apprehensive to come? Would theatre owners lessen ticket prices to lure the patrons? Mohan adds, “That is something to be seen. If people would want to risk themselves. Right now, the first criteria should be trying to attract them to come to cinemas, and do some kind of packaging.”

The Multiplex Association of India (MAI) meanwhile issued a statement, welcoming the decision, and urged state governments to allow their theatres to reopen. “An urgent permission from the State Governments to reopen cinemas in their States would go a substantial distance in ensuring that the cinema exhibition sector is able to quickly recover from the dire economic and financial impact of the epidemic,” it read.

Emmay Entertainment’s Nikkhil Advani says, “It is extremely encouraging to have the government support the safe and gradual reopening of theatres. Our priorities remain the good health of the audiences who patronise our films.”

WHAT HAPPENS TO UPCOMING FILMS?

Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and Ranveer Singh’s 83 had been confirmed by their makers to wait for a theatrical release, and not go in for OTT platform releases. Shibashish Sarkar, CEO, Reliance Entertainment, which is the co-producer on both these biggies, says, “We’re hoping that by November- December, we’ll be in a position where films start releasing, and all states open up. We will wait till that happens, and then take a call, you cannot release on the basis of some states. Unless someone has a regional market and film, they will not release. We haven’t been approached by any theatre owners yet if they want to re release our recent films.”

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh reiterates that no new films will find their way to the theatres anytime soon. “The situation is very critical right now. We don’t have any immediate releases, and what I have been told is that films will be re released. People rushing to theatres is not going to happen overnight. 50 percent is a good number,” he says.

What about biggies such as Varun Dhawan’s Coolie No 1, which were rumoured to hit an OTT platform, will such filmmakers change their mind now?

Adarsh asserts, “I always say to wait till the producer issues official statements. There are too many things that keep going on in the industry on a daily basis, and I think this latest announcement is going to change a lot of things.”

Tenet, the Hollywood film directed by Christopher Nolan, also might finally land up on Indian shores after releasing in selected places worldwide. Exhibitors too are relieved at the decision. Akshaye Rathi says they will be able to earn their bread after seven months.

“Not just us, but distributors and front line employees. I hope the state governments give permission to operate soon,” he says.

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