Cinemas struggle to resume after Covid19 intermission

Few audience & fewer films for movie theaters in Delhi

Cinema

November 11, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Cinemas struggle to resume after Covid19 intermission

Cinema operators say that they will be progressively reopening theaters across the country with safety protocols

After staying shut for seven months due to Covid-19 outbreak, cinema theatres reopened to a poor response a month ago which still continues. However, theatre owners are hopeful of bouncing back to business during the festive season.

Cinema halls were one of the first businesses told to shut down, even before the nationwide lockdown came into effect from March 25 and have been amongst the last to reopen. With the festival season approaching and resumption of the shooting of new films, theatre owners hope they can finally lure movie lovers back to the big screen.

A majority of cinema halls in the national capital remain closed even after almost a month of unlocking five in the

Alok Tondon, CEO of Inox Cinemas says that they hope for films to release in theatres rather than OTT ploatforms

country that allowed cinemas to reopen. The cinema operators say that they will be progressively reopening theatres across the country. “We will be gradually opening our multiplexes as per operational readiness. Our shows will be programmed in such a manner that there are no simultaneous entries, intermissions and exits,” Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure Ltd, that runs one of India’s largest multiplex chains with 147 multiplexes and 626 screens in 68 cities told Media India Group.

Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas, the largest operator of cinema screens, more than 800, in the country, says, “Currently, the focus is on building consumer confidence and following the guidelines laid down by the MHA. We are optimistic that we will emerge out of this stronger and more robust. The screening pipeline looks promising and we are working very hard to bring the most exciting content to our patrons in the following weeks.”

Limited footfall even after a month of reopening

But the crowds are missing from the few theatres that have reopened over the past month, complaining the cinema managers. “A few cinema halls that did reopen on October 15, still attract very few audiences on a daily basis. It’s not like there are a lot of new releases currently anyway. Our business is mainly dependent on Bollywood films and even as there are a few English films on screen, it gets almost no viewership,” Priyankar Singh, manager of Inox Eros cinema at Jangpura in south-east New Delhi told Media India Group.

Sushant Singh Rajput‘s last theatrical release Chhichhore (2019), Kedarnath (2018), War (2019) and many 2020 releases like Tanhaji, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Malang and Thappad are among films that have been re-

released on the big screen in the absence of any new releases and this situation is unlikely to change soon. Instead, many production houses have continued to prefer the digital mode of releasing their new films on the small screen through the Over The Top (OTT) platforms. For instance, Akshay Kumar starrer Laxmmi Bomb, is set to release on Hotstar, an OTT platform on November 13.

“We have total of three shows lined up every day. Our first show starts at 12 pm, then at 3.15 pm and at 6.30 pm. We are maintaining social distancing at every point here. We have demarcations at the ticket counters, inside the cinema halls, at entry as well as at the exit points,” Sandeep Singh, Cinema Manager of PVR Cinemas at 3C’S in Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi informs Media India Group.

Safety measures and new norms in theatres

people will not be allowed inside the premises without face masks and thermal screening

“We are using the latest anti-microbial treatment to sanitise the halls. It was also used in sanitising all the touchpoints like door handles. Sanitiser dispensers have been placed at all major points inside and at the entry points of the cinema hall. We are also encouraging contact-less digital payments,” Singh adds. However, he also says that sometimes the cinema runs shows with just five to ten people in the whole theatre which turns out to be a big loss as a same amount of electricity is consumed, staff members have to be paid and all other services have to run despite the lack of audience.

Ushering in a new era of movie watching, the union government allowed multiplexes, cinema halls, and theatres to reopen from within the framework of a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs). The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) left it to states to take a final call on the matter. The SOPs mandated by the union government include one seat distance in halls, 50 pc capacity usage, masks at all times, proper ventilation and air conditioner temperature settings at above 23 degrees Celsius.

“Following the protocol, all our theatres have maintained that auditorium occupancy is not more than 50 pc, adjacent seats on either sides are left vacant & floor markers placed at the ticket counter and food counters compulsorily,” says Singh.

“Security persons have been instructed to follow the safety protocol and people will not be allowed inside the

Cinema theatre managements assure of following all Covid-19 safety measures

premises without face masks and thermal screening. Show timing, intermissions and exits will be staggered to maintain social distancing. Contactless sanitiser dispensers are placed at the entrance and in lobbies. There will be designated bins for masks and gloves too,” says a member of the staff at INOX Eros at Jangpura.

To go or not to go; cinema lovers wonder

Even though the cinemas have reopened after a gap of eight months and people now have an option to take a break from their OTT binge-watch, not everyone is jumping at the opportunity. While some are eagerly waiting to catch the movies on the 70mm screen, others are not willing to take that risk.

Ankur Sharma, 37, runs a real estate business in Gurugram, a suburb of the Indian capital. As a regular moviegoer, he and his wife miss going to the movies but are too scared to enjoy one even as theatre managements assure of all safety measures. “Earlier, we used to go to the movies every week. But now we have a kid and the fear of Covid-19, hence, we don’t feel like taking that risk. Cinema halls will take precautions, but flight operators also did. Still, there have been cases of people catching the deadly virus during their flight. We live in India and there are loopholes in every system. No matter how much we try, negligence happens at some level,” he says.

Astha Sharma, a 25-year-old sociology student at Ambedkar University in Delhi, is eagerly waiting to watch a movie on the big screen. “The last movie that I watched in a cinema hall was in February. As soon as a good movie releases, I will go to the movies because nothing can beat the experience of watching it on a big screen, with your favourite people. If we take all the precautions, one can easily get back to enjoying movies in the theatres,” she tells Media India Group.

The road ahead for cinemas

A long and bumpy ride lies ahead for the cinemas to get the customers back in the hall. Not too long ago, even at the beginning of the year 2020, cinema operators and Bollywood production homes were dismissive of the OTTs that they saw as marginal players in the business.

However, eight months of the pandemic has changed all that and today practically all the cinema operators acknowledge the threat posed by the OTTs to their survival as no new releases seem to be headed to the large screens yet. For the business to return anywhere near normal, the screen operators need to battle the competition from OTTs and ensure they get the big releases back.

In May 2020, Inox and PVR both had issues statements against the release of films on OTT.As PVR, we believe that the theatrical release is the best way for audiences to experience the labour and creative genius of our filmmakers. This has been so for decades and not just in India but globally. The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has caused an unfortunate shutdown of cinemas. We are confident, once we get to the other side of this crisis, there would be enough and more pent up demand from cine-goers who have been cooped up at homes for the last many weeks,” says Dutta.

In the interim, some screen operators are innovating to raise revenues. “We are looking to innovate with private screenings, where families or smaller groups of guests can book the entire auditorium and enjoy the content of their choice,” says Priyankar Singh, head of communication at Inox Eros cinemas in Jangpura.

To draw more crowd, multiplexes are offering cashback on more than one ticket, discount food coupons and selling two movie tickets at the price of one. “We are also planning to bring newer and more attractive offers during the festival season. Our main goal right now is to regain the trust of the audience that they are safe inside the theatre,” he says.

The fate of cinema theatres is unlikely to be decided anytime this year. The theatres may find some traction back with the movie lovers perhaps sometime early next year once the films that are on the floor currently, are finished and released. Until then, they too have a fight on to ensure that the intermission does not lead straight to a premature The End.

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