Nothing dramatic: Bollywood business scripts a sad tale!
Since March-end, there has been no drama or action, quite literally, in cinema halls across the country. And though states are in unlock mode, the film exhibition sector still hasn’t got a go-ahead. Feeling the financial pinch, now theatre owners/exhibitors want the governments to lend them a helping hand by cutting various levies such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), entertainment tax and property tax.
“We don’t need to shout from the rooftops that the cinema [exhibition] sector has been badly hit. At this point, we would appreciate some assistance. To start with, the government can reduce or halve the GST for some time at least. If I need to open the theatre, it has to be viable for me. Otherwise, I am ready to keep it shut for another two to three months,” says Suman Sinha, the owner of Patna-based Regent Cinema.
This year, only a handful of Hindi films such as Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Baaghi 3, Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan and Malang, hit theatres before the lockdown came into force. “With newer expenses [Covid-19 related SOPs] at the time of reopening, we’d need help from the government. They can reduce entertainment tax, GST rates and property taxes for the time being,” says Manoj Desai, executive director of Mumbai’s G7 and Maratha Mandir theatres.
According to a Ficci-Ernst & Young report, the number of single screens in India has anyway been steadily declining—from 7,031 in 2016 to 6,327 in 2019. And India is believed to have lost 10-12% of cinema screens since the start of the lockdown. These numbers could go up to 15-20%, if theatres don’t reopen soon.
As exhibitor-distributor Akshaye Rathi puts it: “The sectors that have been most affected are the hospitality, tourism and entertainment. We’d welcome some stimulus in terms of discounts/rebates. Cinema [exhibition] business is in its most difficult situation. For many, it has become the question of survival. Keeping theatres closed for longer would sound the death knell for many.”
There are too many issues, say industry insiders. To start with, they want SOPs to be viable – financially and otherwise. “How can I have people sit in alternate seats, and also leave an entire row empty? Why would I have the entire air-conditioned theatre function for a handful of people?” says Sinha.
Desai also rues the lack of content. “Even if theatres reopen, will audiences come rushing in, especially when we don’t have exciting, new content?” he says.
During the lockdown, many single-screen theatres such as AVM Rajeswari and Maharani in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Shanthala in Mysore, Karnataka and Sapna in Thrissur, Kerala, among others, downed shutters.
And experts say close to 50% of single-screen theatres may find it difficult to stay afloat.
“The government should seriously consider green-lighting the opening of cinema halls. It’s not as if opening them will lead to a sudden surge in [Covid-19] numbers. Cases are, anyway, not going down as of now,” says Shibasish Sarkar, group CEO, Reliance Entertainment.