Before you answer the post, why do exhibitors want the occupancy to be 50%? Isn't that asking too much when they are aware that the virus can easily spread?
Theatre owners across northern and southern India have urged the government to allow them to reopen cinemas at least by the Dussehra weekend in October. Film trade members, cinema and multiplex owners in the two regions, who met senior officials of the home, and information and broadcasting ministries separately, have been given a patient hearing and assured of a response within the next couple of days.
Given that it has lost several lucrative holiday weekends of the year, the film industry is now pinning its hopes on Dussehra, particularly Diwali.
“We have requested the government to allow us to reopen cinemas with 50% capacity. Their main concern, as of now, is the seating of people in closed auditoriums where the virus spreads faster at a time when the number of cases is on the rise," said Sunil N Narang, secretary of the Telangana Film Chamber of Commerce and managing director of Asian Cinema Theatres.
Katragadda Prasad, president, South India Film Chamber of Commerce, said the government meeting was attended by representatives from the Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala industries who spoke of the huge losses they were incurring as a result of theatre shutdowns and that they were desperately seeking permits to reopen by 1 October.
Amit Khare, secretary, I&B ministry, had said at the Global AVGC Summit for the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) last week that reopening of cinemas was priority for the government too and that SOPs (standard operating procedures) for cinemas were ready and were waiting for clearance by the home ministry. Khare, who was responding to anxiety and concerns of the film production and exhibition sector brought up by Siddharth Roy Kapur, co-chairman, CII National Committee on media and entertainment, however, added that in the past, theatre owners had gone overboard in announcing reopening dates before an official confirmation had been made.
Roy had referred to the dismal state of the film business and the fact that the industry was deeply disappointed over reopening permits not being given as part of unlocking guidelines for September when every sector from malls to aviation, was allowed to operate.
India has already lost 12% of its movie screen count over the covid-19 pandemic as theatres, especially single screens, stare at bleak future with salaries and fixed incomes mounting and no foreseeable income. The Indian theatre business has lost box office worth ₹3,000 crore in the six months that cinemas have remained shut since March.
However, there are other challenges.
“Even if theatres did reopen, there is no content to play," film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar pointed out referring to the fact that all films that were complete and ready for release, at least in Hindi, had already been acquired by video streaming platforms.
Hollywood has come to the rescue to some extent, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and the new James Bond film, No Time To Die, have both committed to theatrical release in India, dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, besides English. This July, Ajay Bijli, chairman and managing director, PVR Ltd had also admitted at a panel with Workplace Trends, a global forum to connect industry leaders and stakeholders that the first few offerings in movie theatres will be Hollywood releases. The first big Indian film, Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi will only arrive for Diwali in November.