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The rich pipeline of Bollywood, Hollywood and regional language movies slated to be released could help the Indian box office notch up collections of up to 2,000 crore in 2021, said trade experts.

The first quarter of the year has seen muted response, but pent-up demand from moviegoers and the prospect of big-ticket films hitting screens from April should ensure some recovery for the ailing industry. However, total revenues will be nowhere near the 2019 collections of 5,000 crore.

“The best benchmark for us to go by at this point in time is the business in malls, restaurants, and entertainment zones that have recovered quite well, which proves that people want to step out and that we’re only a blockbuster away from achieving the same for movie theatres," said Devang Sampat, chief executive officer, Cinepolis India. Starting with horror comedy Roohi on 11 March, Bollywood has a huge line up of films for release, besides English and vernacular language offerings, dubbed in Hindi.

Sports drama ’83 will clash with horror film The Conjuring 3 in June, while John Abraham’s Attack and Allu Arjun’s Pushpa will arrive on the Independence Day weekend. Theatres are confident of providing adequate screen time to all films, but critics said sentiments are low considering that the economy is not the same anymore, resulting in job losses and pay cuts.

“The entire industry is banking on these releases. We are not looking at profits at the moment. The current priority is to get our audiences back to cinemas, entertain them, and win their faith and trust for ensuring they resume their usual buyer behaviour," said Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer, INOX Leisure Ltd, He, however, said that the average number of shows will be less than pre-covid times. Cinemas will follow strict sanitization and disinfecting procedures between screenings, ensuring staggered entry and exit. They will also make sure intermissions of different auditoriums do not clash.

Atul Mohan, the editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, said it would be crucial for cinemas to come up with reasonable ticket pricing, depending on the scale of the film and the interest it garners. Of late, films not featuring big stars, were priced at 300, further dampening business prospects.

Trade experts said there is a possibility of a slow start. An analyst said seeking anonymity that 50 crore could be the new 100 crore box office standard given that people will only gradually trickle in. Besides, while release dates are being put out, not many filmmakers are marketing the products with songs, trailers or other promotional material. It signals a lack of confidence among filmmakers, he said.

Rising covid cases in Maharashtra are a source of worry, too, as it contributes to a huge chunk of the Hindi films business, and curbs or curfews in the state could spell doom for Bollywood. However, cinemas are confident of the market in the south in view of the numbers that films such as Master have generated.

“If the film is good, it will work as we have seen through houseful shows for Master and some Telugu films recently. A film that is not up to the mark, may have made 100 crore in pre-covid times, but will suffer now," said Kunal Sawhney, senior vice-president, Carnival Cinemas. The good thing is people are more vigilant now than ever before and the government is firm on protocol. Families are visiting theatres with children for recent offerings such as Tom and Jerry, but there is a sense of the norms and some amount of restraint becoming part and parcel of our lives, post-covid, he said. “Post March, there should be no looking back for cinema theatres," he said.

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