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Multiplex owners are hoping that states that are still to allow the reopening of cinemas, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, will do so by early November, before the Diwali weekend.
Multiplex owners are hoping that states that are still to allow the reopening of cinemas, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, will do so by early November, before the Diwali weekend.

Cinemas line up mix of releases

  • The Diwali weekend has long been the film industry’s most lucrative period, often seeing the biggest releases

India’s theatre chains are betting on the coming Diwali weekend to draw people out of their homes after a seven-month coronavirus shutdown was lifted.

Multiplex owners are hoping that states that are still to allow the reopening of cinemas, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, will do so by early November, before the Diwali weekend.

The Diwali weekend has long been the film business’s most lucrative period, with the biggest movie releases scheduled during this time.

But this year is going to be different with most producers either postponing the release of big-budget films to next year or having released them on video-streaming platforms because of the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of theatres amid the pandemic.

Although the annual Bollywood tent-pole seems infeasible, a few films are still likely to make their way to cinemas during this festive season.

As of now, Zee Studios has announced the release of its comedy-drama Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari starring Manoj Bajpayee and Diljit Dosanjh for Diwali. But before that, Zee will bring two other films—Khaali Peeli and Ka Pae Ranasingam—that it released on its new pay-per-view service Zee Plex to cinemas this week. PVR Pictures will also showcase Hollywood movies My Spy, Force of Nature and The Rental in properties that have been allowed to reopen, starting this weekend.

West Bengal, the first state to announce the reopening of cinemas, has Bengali films Dracula Sir and SOS Kolkata lined up for Durga Puja.

Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas, BookMyShow, expects 70% of theatres to reopen within October and the rest, led by Maharashtra, a key business territory, to follow. The ticketing site has rolled out a new feature called ‘My Safety First’ that will list various safety indicators available across every cinema listed on the platform, enabling users to make an informed decision. “The idea is to build consumer confidence until Diwali and make sure cinema is back by then," said Pramod Arora, chief growth and strategy officer at PVR Ltd. Both studios and theatre chains are working together to activate the best line-up possible for these unusual circumstances, he said.

Apart from Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, exhibitors said they are aware that certain film producers had held back from releasing their films online. These include Kiara Advani-starrer Indoo Ki Jawani, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s production Tuesdays and Fridays and Yash Raj Films’ Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar and Bunty Aur Babli 2. Further, regional language films will help recovery in individual states.

“It is difficult to project consumer behaviour, but the comeback is likely to be slow and steady," Arora added.

While there are talks of Hollywood tentpole, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, releasing for Diwali in India, trade experts say theatre owners may also be compelled to take on films that have committed to an OTT release, including Laxmmi Bomb and Dil Bechara, to fill seats in these unforeseen circumstances, leading to the country’s first hybrid release model.

“This is not a call that can be taken by an individual operator but will have to come from the Multiplex Association of India. However, this is an extraordinary situation, and we are open to it as an individual company," said P.V. Sunil, managing director at Carnival Cinemas, which is planning to run older hits like Baahubali, PK and Sairat till new offerings are available.

Rahul Puri, managing director at Mukta A2 Cinemas, agreed some producers will consider a theatrical run even if an OTT deal is done.

“However, these are up to the OTT platforms to agree," he added.

Meanwhile, Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, originally scheduled for Diwali, is now likely to release on the Republic Day weekend of 2021.

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