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NEW DELHI: With a series of film releases slated for this summer, the film exhibition business may face a problem of plenty as big-ticket films are likely to eat into the margins of small-budget movies, said trade experts.

Of the 9,000 movie screens in India, several have not restarted operations due to covid-19 restrictions. With too many new titles lined up for weekends, trade experts expect budget movies to take a 50% hit.

“A lot of theatres, particularly single screens will have to hedge bets considering there will be a clutter in cinema theatres, given the way the announcements are coming in," said Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas.

For instance, theatre owners are likely to reserve prime slots for horror comedy Roohi, which notched up impressive numbers since its release last week, while screening is expected to be limited for crime drama Mumbai Saga and Yash Raj Films’ Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, scheduled for release this Friday. In April, YRF production Bunty Aur Babli 2 will have just a week, before clashing with Kangana Ranaut’s Thalaivi and Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi. Two big-budget Eid releases in May—Salman Khan’s Radhe and John Abraham’s Satyameva Jayate 2—will have to compete with Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom within two weeks.

While clashes at the Indian box office were common even before the covid-19 outbreak, limited screens operating at 50% occupancy, will be a real challenge for the industry with a backlog of films hitting theatres.

In pre-covid times, most films earned 50% of their overall box office collections and recovered production costs over the first week. With low revenue in the first few weeks and surge in covid-19 cases in some states, films will try to extend their run. Puri added.

Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan said the backlog stems from the fact that producers could not get the best returns from digital premieres for films like Coolie No.1. Also, theatres will have to accommodate Hollywood and regional movies. “Radhe and Satyameva Jayate 2 will clash with Chiranjeevi’s Telugu film Acharya, Mohanlal’s Malayalam film Marakkar - Arabikadalinte Simham and Venkatesh’s Telugu film Narappa, which is plain foolish," Chauhan added.

However, a section of multiplex owners see opportunity in the crisis. Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer, INOX Leisure, said the industry has always been witnessing clashes, especially during festivals and long weekends, which add to the excitement. “We will stick to assigning optimum screens to movies, based on consumer preferences. A producer is the best judge, as far as the release date (is concerned)," he said.

Several factors, including the successful run of a film and the rate of spread of the covid-19 infection, will determine the recovery time for the film exhibition business, said trade experts. It will take theatres at least six months to see sustained growth, they added. Moreover, number of multiplex screens in small towns remains limited.

“A lot of good films will die, but producers have brought this upon themselves," Chauhan said. “Had they released a few films when cinemas had reopened in October and we were starved for content, they would have enjoyed a blanket run, but now they will witness an over-competitive market and possibly lower revenues."

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