Festival season brings cheer to theatre owners as screenings resume

Attracting audience with new film releases

Cinema

November 3, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Festival season brings cheer to theatre owners as screenings resume

After a long break theatres all over India are reopening again with full occupancy

Diwali is set to bring cheer to cinema theatre owners as various state governments remove restrictions imposed on occupancy inside the theatres due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The easing coincides with one of the busiest periods for the film exhibitors in India who are hoping to bring back the business during the festival period.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck India in early 2020, the cinema industry was the first to feel the heat as theatres were ordered closed all over the country even before the lockdown was announced on March 25, 2020. After a closure of eight months, last year they reopened briefly, but were again shut down just before the second wave crippled the nation.

Though they began reopening a few weeks ago in phases, now, with a significant decline in the number of daily Covid-19 cases in second wave, the theatres have been told that they can operate at full capacity and the shooting of new films has also been permitted without any of the previous restrictions.

“After a long break to cinema industry due to pandemic, we were told to reopen theatres with 50 pc of occupancy last year in August but again after the increase in Covid-19 cases, we shut down entirely. Cinema industry is the first industry which was told to shut down and it is also the last industry to reopen. If we compare cinema industry to any other kind of industry, we are one of the most affected industry from the beginning of the pandemic,” Puneet Gupta, assistant vice president, corporate communications of Inox Leisure, that runs one of the India’s largest multiplex chains with 147 multiplexes and 626 screens in 68 cities, tells Media India Group.

“There were many movies which were almost ready to hit theatres but didn’t get released after the announcement of national wide lockdown. Definitely cinema exhibition has been affected but at the same time all the film shootings and releases of movies were also stopped. The whole scheduled has been disturbed,” says Gupta.

To attract crowds back inside the cinema halls in strength, Inox has launched several incentives to attract audiences.

“At first, we started a private screening concept for audiences, we offered whole auditorium to a group of friends or families, who wanted to watch the movies without any outsiders. This way the audiences get a chance to watch their favourite movie with their favourite people on their special day or occasion. The cost starts from INR 5000 for full theatre and the people appreciated us for this move and also commented that they had a good experience, “says Gupta.

“We also started a new project for instance, now we are screening live the ongoing matches of Indian cricket team at the T20 World Cup, in our cinema halls and we are getting good response for this also. We have also added many new food items in our food menu. All these steps were taken to revive the cinema industry like it used to before,” says Gupta.

Earlier last year when the theatres had been allowed to operate, there were several pre-conditions such as sanitisation of the entire hall after each show as well as social distancing, temperature checks and masks were compulsory. Gupta says that despite rigourous following of rules by cinemas, the viewers were just not confident enough to come back. “Even though we strictly followed the precautions during the reopening of theatres after first wave of Covid-19, but we did not receive very good response because people were afraid to move out and at the same time we also did not have new releases to show to them. But now all the movies, whose releases had been put on hold, are set to release their back-to-back and mainly during the festive season. People are vaccinated to a large extent and now they are less afraid and they also take more precautions. So, releasing many movies every week during the festive season will act as a powerful magnet to tempt the audience to come back to the theatres,” says Gupta.

“We also changed our timing and had a huge gap between every show so that there will be less crowd and we will get a time to sanitise all the places,” says Gupta.

“During festival seasons, each economy sectors in India has a rise in their demand, and India’s whole economy increase and releasing movies during festival season will help our industry to attract people,” says Gupta.

Movies on different platforms  

As the theatres were closed and with the boom in smartphone connectivity, film producers began using the new platforms like OTT platforms that became available for them to reach at least some of their films to the audiences.

But Gupta says that despite their popularity, the OTTs cannot replace cinema theatres. “The OTT platforms provide different content to audiences like web series, documentary and the movies they missed to watch. But in cinema theatres, people always expect to watch new movies and both the platforms play a major role to take films to the audiences,” says Gupta.

“We like to watch movies on OTTs, but we will never get the same feeling, excitement and enjoyment we used to get in theatres,” Arun, a student from Delhi tells Media India Group, confirming what Gupta of Inox had to say.

“As soon as theatres opened with 50 pc occupancy I went to watch a film with my friends, but we didn’t enjoy much. I hope that now everything has changed and come back to normal so that we can enjoy the films in theatres without any fear or precautions,” says Arun.

“In theatres people always expect to watch new movies, so both these platforms play a major role in front of audiences. There is difference in both the platforms and it will remain the same,” says Gupta.

“In September this year, when government allowed to reopen theatres after this announcement, production houses finally began scheduling the release of their films that they had put on hold since they did not want to release them on the OTTs. In India, theatrical releases of movies has a special meaning and value and they come with huge expectations. There are infinite movies made in India every year, but only half of the movies get released in theatres. We only have 52 weeks to release movies so we fail to release all the new movies in theatres. So the OTTs may come in handy to provide a screening opportunity for those films that do not make it to a theatrical release,” adds Gupta.

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