Post-lockdown plans: silver screen to brighten up soon?
India is yet to be pulled out of its shutdown slumber. But on May 30, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued new guidelines for phased reopening of areas outside the containment zones. But reopening of cinemas halls – that have been shut since mid-March when the lockdown 1.0 came into force – falls in phase 3 and the decision vis-à-vis restarting theatres will be taken after assessing the situation.
Multiplex Association of India (MAI) had requested the central government to allow reopening of theatres from June 30. Last month, MAI had also submitted safety and precautions plan for cinemas to the government. As per trade experts, theatres have “already incurred back-breaking losses” and that probably for the first time in the history theatres have recorded zero ticket sales for as long as 60 days.
“It goes without saying that the theatrical business is in shambles but what’s more important right now is people’s safety and survival. It was expected that the government won’t allow theatres to reopen,” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh. Producer Ramesh Taurani concurs, adding: “I’m not surprised with the government’s move. Theatres will be reopened when establishments such as spas and salons also get green signal. We’ve no option but to live with the losses. Each and every one of us is losing money.”
As per an estimate, the movie business has lost nearly ₹100 crore every week that theatres have remained shut. So, in total, the losses are close to ₹1,000 crore since lockdown started. Exhibitor-distributor Akshaye Rathi says: “Since theatre business runs on small margins, there could be collateral damages also. Going by the sheer number of employments we generate – directly or indirectly – we hope the government will bail the sector out with incentives and subsidies etc.”
In the meantime, filmmakers have also started to sell their films directly to OTT platforms. Already, films such as Ghoomketu, Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi have gone to OTT platforms. But Rathi is not losing sleep. “Theatres will be back in business – with complete focus on people’s safety – sooner than what everyone’s expecting,” he says.
Taurani feels he hopes that theatres “open properly at one go. “Nowadays, since Hindi films release simultaneously across the world, it’s imperative that theatres open globally as well,” he says. Rathi puts things in perspective, saying: “Most global [theatre] chains are anyway scheduled to open before India. So, we are confident that the entire theatrical system will be back to a seamless manner within a month of its opening,” he says.
Now showing: big masala fare!
Besides a “huge number of people”, what cinema hall owners hope to see at the reopening of theatres is “some engaging, super-entertaining films.” All of them unanimously agree that theatres “would look at reopening with a bang” at the box office. “If people don’t find a film attractive or good enough, they won’t turn up, regardless of any pandemic. So, we expect big, tent-pole movies such as Sooryavanshi, ’83, Mumbai Saga or a Coolie No. 1 to open big and pull in people to theatres,” says Rathi.