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The big worry for exhibitors is that viewers will fear stepping out into large crowds even after theatres reopen. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
The big worry for exhibitors is that viewers will fear stepping out into large crowds even after theatres reopen. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Covid-19 disruption: Single screen theatres start shutting down

  • The smallest properties across states spend a minimum of 2 lakh per month on staff salaries and fixed electricity and maintenance charges that the government hasn’t waived amid zero earnings

NEW DELHI: Unlike their multiplex counterparts who are hopeful about reopening cinemas as early as next month, a number of single screen theatres in India have decided to shut shop due to uncertainty around the film exhibition business. Trade experts say more than 50% of India’s 6,327 single screens will find it difficult to restart business in the post pandemic world.

Earlier this month, two iconic independent theatres in Chennai, AVM Rajeswari and Maharani, announced closures. Known as the common man’s theatre, the two had served the working class population of the city with pocket-friendly ticket pricing, affordable food and beverage and minimal parking rates for more than four decades now. The news came close on the heels of Sapna, another popular destination in Thrissur, Kerala, being sold off to a business group. A report by The News Minute said around 150 theatres in Karnataka were mulling shutting down because of huge losses following the pandemic and lack of a government relief package.

“Single screens don’t have much of a chance anymore," independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai pointed out. Hygiene and a family-friendly ambience had always been challenges for these cinema halls that catered to low-income group, an aspect that multiplexes had scored on with posh amenities.

“Plus, an increase in ticket prices to accommodate the same is forbidden by many state governments and anyway, if prices are raised, people will not come," Pillai added.

Trade experts have emphasised that huge investments required on safety, social distancing and sanitisation measures post reopening will be a Herculean task even for multiplexes, compelling them to fold up non-performing properties across the country. And SOPs are impossible for single screens.

The smallest properties across states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar spend a minimum of 2 lakh per month on staff salaries and fixed electricity and maintenance charges that the government hasn’t waived amid zero earnings. Add to that the fact that several migrant workers employed in theatres of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have gone back home to places like Bihar, Pillai said.

Independent film exhibitor Akshaye Rathi with operations across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has said the sector is “on ventilator" wrote an open letter to colleagues this week urging them to keep going on.

“Many of us have liquidated our savings to continue paying salaries, cut down on important expenses to make ends meet and in some unfortunate cases, even mortgaged the properties to raise funds. The uncertainty that envelops our future has already resulted in dozens of closures over the past three months and by the time, this storm subsides, hundreds of single screen cinemas are expected to be wiped off the exhibition sector’s map of India," he wrote.

Mukesh Mehta of Malayalam film production and distribution company E4 Entertainment pointed out that several single screens had spent 1-2 crore on renovation over the past three years, interest on loans for which were mounting at nearly 12% annum.

“Many of these, family-owned properties with other business interests, are simply carrying on out of a sense of prestige," Mehta said.

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