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Multiplexes are not showing such desperation yet, but the going is equally tough for them. (Indranil Bhoumik/Mint)
Multiplexes are not showing such desperation yet, but the going is equally tough for them. (Indranil Bhoumik/Mint)

Covid-19 impact: Curtains for some cinema screens

  • According to trade experts, since the beginning of the lockdown, 10-12% of cinemas have shut down permanently
  • India had 6,327 single screens and 3,200 multiplexes as of 2019, according to the latest Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report

A large number of India’s 10,000-odd cinema screens may never light up again, as more than four months of closure and uncertainty over reopening prompt many of them to down shutters forever. The worst-hit will be single-screen cinemas, which may not be able to bear the additional costs of safety and hygiene whenever they are allowed to open.

According to trade experts, since the beginning of the lockdown, 10-12% of cinemas have shut down permanently, a number which could rise to 15-20%, if they remain closed longer.

India had 6,327 single screens and 3,200 multiplexes as of 2019, according to the latest Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report.

“The film exhibition sector is in a mess, thanks to the combination of an indefinite delay in making films, in addition to the absence of clarity on a reopening date for theatres," said film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar. Theatres are unsure when they can reopen, whether audiences will feel confident enough to return and whether there will be any films for release due to the extended production halt and the completed films streaming on digital platforms.

Like India, the world’s biggest movie market, China is witnessing a threat to 40% of its nearly 70,000 theatres in the wake of covid, according to a BBC report. Theatres that shut in January reopened briefly in March, but closed again and have now slowly started to reopen.

According to Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, small, single-screen cinemas were already struggling to provide entertainment in small towns at low ticket prices. In the past few months, iconic Chennai theatres such as AVM Rajeswari and Maharani have shut.

“So many single screen owners are so disheartened that they don’t wish to continue in the business at all," said Bihar-based independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan. In the past few months, top stars such as Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, who could guarantee returns at a time when Bollywood is increasingly leaning on urban, niche, multiplex subjects, have taken their films Laxmmi Bomb and Bhuj: The Pride of India to digital platforms. Chauhan says that when these stars do not care to stand by the sector that is responsible for their stardom, there is no option for these single screens but to explore rentals by converting to either marriage halls or shopping complexes.

Multiplexes are not showing such desperation yet, but the going is equally tough for them. Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas, said it is normal for non-performing assets to be shut each year, but trade experts point out that this unending crisis will compel many multiplex screens to close down, particularly in small towns and virgin territories where the penetration of movie halls is anyway negligible.

“Also, Bollywood will probably not have fancy box office numbers to speak of for a while," Mohan said. “Stars used to being part of the 100-200 crore club may struggle to reach these numbers with many screens out of the game until new players come up to take their place," he added.

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