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NEW DELHI:Movie lovers and cinema hall owners will have to wait longer for some of this year’s new films, with studios holding back several titles scheduled for release in the coming weeks as renewed coronavirus infections bring back restrictions.

While Yash Raj Films has said it will set a new date for its comedy, Bunty Aur Babli 2, originally scheduled to release on 23 April, Eros International has deferred the release of Haathi Mere Saathi slated for 26 March. However, the movie’s Tamil (Kaadan) and Telugu (Aranya) versions have already hit the big screen.

Punjabi film Puaada, starring Ammy Virk, has also delayed its theatrical screening as infections spread in Punjab.

The change of plans has disappointed theatre owners, who were beginning to think the recovery had begun with Bollywood movies Roohi and Mumbai Saga.

“The sentiments were very high and positive (with the release of new films), but it seems like things are set in reverse gear, with the industry taking steps backwards when we had just started moving ahead," said Kunal Sawhney, senior vice-president, Carnival Cinemas.

Earlier this week, the Delhi government named cinema halls, metros, malls and religious places as ‘super spreader’ areas following a surge in coronavirus cases, a move trade experts deem unwarranted given that theatres are not only following all safety and hygiene protocols, but there is also no proof of cases originating or spreading from cinemas.

Trade experts and theatre owners say cinemas are in dire need of a steady flow of new content to keep the momentum going, and that there is ample proof of the fact that people are ready to come to the theatres if there is compelling stuff on offer.

While Roohi had made around 18.43 crore at last count with an impressive start, thanks to the Mahashivratri holiday, crime drama Mumbai Saga is likely to record first-week collections of close to 13 crore, though growing infections and restrictions have hit both films, particularly in states such as Maharashtra.

Hollywood monster film Godzilla vs Kong picked up around 6 crore on its first day alone after its release earlier this week, though major contributions came from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh region.

South India is bringing in more than 60% of box office revenues of films currently, with the Hindi-speaking markets faring way below potential.

Even as uncertainty looms over the release of Akshay Kumar-starrer Bollywood biggie Sooryavanshi at the end of April, some smaller films are sticking to their dates in the meantime.

Parineeti Chopra-starrer Saina has hit the screens this week, while Amitabh Bachchan and Emraan Hashmi’s Chehre is slated for a 9 April release.

Kangana Ranaut’s biopic on Jayalalithaa, Thalaivi, will release on 23 April.

“A lot of these films had begun spending on publicity and marketing; so, they didn’t really have a choice but to go ahead with the theatrical release. But the industry can only hope for the vaccination drive to get into full gear, in time for the big releases," said a trade analyst, who did not want to be named.

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