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NEW DELHI : Theatre owners in India’s big cities may be reluctant to admit their revenues have been hit by the Covid-19 outbreak but the truth is Indian film business is bracing itself for tough times ahead. New film releases may be deferred and theatres may temporarily shut down depending on the severity of the situation.

As the first state to take a call on film exhibition in the wake of the pandemic, all theatres in Jammu and Kashmir will remain shut till March-end. “Cinemas in Jammu and Kashmir will remain shut till 31 March in view of the curbs imposed by the government on mass gatherings as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. All your favourite superstars will be back on the big screen soon," a statement on ticketing site BookMyShow said. Multiplex chains like PVR and Wave are among those present in the state.

The release of at least one big-ticket Bollywood film, Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi that is scheduled for 24 March, remains uncertain as several trade experts expect its business to take a significant hit if the outbreak persists or even worsens. Two large-scale Hollywood offerings, Disney’s action drama Mulan and superhero flick Black Widow scheduled for 27 March and 1 May, respectively, are also likely to announce soon given that people have become hesitant to be present in large gatherings.

A spokesperson for Reliance Entertainment, co-producer of Sooryavanshi said the company will make an official announcement if there is any change in the movie release date. Disney India did not respond to Mint’s queries. It has already announced the postponement of Mulan’s release in China, where some 70,000 theatres have been shut, over the past few months.

“Films may not be able to make a mark at the box office if the situation remains as it is, though producers can always announce a change of date even four or five days before release," Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, said with regards to Sooryavanshi. To be sure, the Rohit Shetty-directed film that has been made at a budget of 125-135 crore has already spent anything between 25-30 crore on marketing and publicity. Promotional spends to keep the buzz alive will see a rise if the film is postponed, and the next likely date is around Good Friday in April, which is when Reliance has another film lined up—the sports drama ’83 starring Ranveer Singh and directed by Kabir Khan.

To be sure, Bollywood saw the first signs of a dent in box office collections due to the virus scare last weekend with Tiger Shroff’s Baaghi 3 making 17.50 crore on its first day instead of an expected potential of 20 crore plus. Trade website Box Office India said the film received an extremely lukewarm response in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.

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