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NEW DELHI: Big star movies such as Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, sports drama ’83, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi and Prabhas’ Radhe Shyam may only see the light of the day around Diwali given that cinemas will see staggered re-opening in most states as lockdown restrictions ease.

Film trade specialists expect phased resumption of cinemas, with Delhi and Uttar Pradesh re-opening by July and possibly all of Maharashtra by September. This, they said, could lend itself to medium-budget film releases around Independence Day weekend and for a big-ticket releases to arrive by Diwali.

"We should be looking at a three-month period for all cinemas to open up nationally," Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Ltd said. “Currently the situation is quite dynamic with the government weighing every decision with caution. Also, each state would be assessing its own on-ground situation, guidelines from the centre and looking at what other adjoining states are doing," Dutta added.

Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas, also doesn’t expect all theatres to re-open across up until October. It remains to be seen how and when the second covid 19 wave recedes in the southern states, “these have been keen to start cinema operations quicker."

"Conversations (with producers) for new offerings are on but these announcements can only be made once majority of the states are open," Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd said, adding that the Independence Day weekend could be a viable opportunity for a film in any language depending upon the specific states that are open by then.

However, any big film would need a promotional window of three to four week after producers are aware of most states having permitted cinema operations, he said.

"There are some big-ticket Bollywood movies such as Sooryavanshi, ‘83, Atrangi Re, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Prithviraj, Jersey, Lal Singh Chaddha, Satyameva Jayate, Gangubai Kathiawadi, Bachchan Pandey, Pathan, Cirkus awaiting announcement by producers," PVR’s Dutta pointed out.

"Similarly, southern producers who held back the release of new Malayalam and Tamil content such as Marakkar, Aaraattu, Annaatthe due to the elections in Kerala and Tamil Nadu would be keen to announce these titles as cinemas open up. Even for Telugu, the calendar was packed till mid-October before the second wave started with titles like RRR, Ghani, Pushpa, Liger, Sarkaru Vaari Paata, F3 lined up," he added.

Starting with regional language cinema, Devang Sampat, chief executive officer, Cinepolis India, expects theatres to be able to follow these up with Bollywood and Hollywood films. With markets like the US now open, American movies such as Fast and Furious 9, A Quite Place 2, The Conjuring 3 and Cruella that have already released in other parts of the world, may make their way to India in the initial weeks after theatres start operating.

"Plus, there are always states like Andhra Pradesh and Assam that have allowed cinemas all this while but we haven’t been operational," Sampat added. Apart from adequate communication on safety and hygiene protocols to draw viewers, film trade analysts said cinemas must focus on reasonable pricing in the initial weeks. Disproportionately high pricing for small-budget films after the first lockdown proved to be a big disadvantage.

“There will be some innovation in pricing. There will be loyalty schemes and barter deals worked out to allow people to return to theatres. We need to remember that there has been an economic cost to this pandemic as well. Certainly, there needs to be some thinking along these lines when people start making their way back to the cinemas," Puri said. However, bigger films may still be able to charge premiums as these are the experiences people have waited long for, he added.

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