NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of cinema theatres in India, Bollywood is banking upon festive weekends--Independence Day, Dussehra, Diwali, among others--to breathe life back into the exhibition business in the second half of the year. The holiday weekends typically add 10-15% to the business of big-ticket films.
Tentpole movies such as Akshay Kumar’s Rohit Shetty-directed action thriller Sooryavanshi, Kabir Khan’s sports drama ’83, Varun Dhawan-starrer Coolie No.1 and Salman Khan’s Radhe are first in line to have made clear that they will wait for cinemas to reopen instead of opting for digital during amid the current crisis.
“We are absolutely confident that there will be no constraints on content once theatres resume operations, before which film production will also start," said Kamal Gianchandani, chief executive, PVR Pictures, adding that chains like theirs are expecting the first four weeks after reopening to be slow but sharp recovery will follow, especially since the second half of the year comes with big holiday weekends.
To be sure, Hollywood has postponed several of its big summer releases to next year. For example, due to open in May 2020, Fast and Furious 9 has been pushed to April 2021, Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife has gone from July 2020 to March 2021 and Jared Leto’s Marvel vampire movie Morbius has been shifted from July to mid-March. However, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is still slated for this July, while Warner Bros will bring Wonder Woman 1984 in August.
“Hollywood has always looked at only a couple of release windows, first in early summer which means around April, then in August and finally around Christmas in December. But in India, people come to movies throughout the year. Plus, our culture is dotted with festivals and big dates," Mohan Umrotkar, chief executive officer, Carnival Cinemas pointed out.
The habit of visiting a cinema for celebrations is inherently built in the Indian socio-cultural behaviour and a three-month phase cannot change this habit, said Alok Tandon, chief executive, INOX Leisure Ltd. The festive season has been augmenting and strengthening this habit, making it almost a norm to enjoy a movie during festivals.
“Diwali has always been a season of high footfalls, and this year Diwali might just be the much required spur for the industry. The pushback of movies due to lockdown has ensured that we will have good quality of content before, during and after Diwali," Tandon added.
Akshay Kumar’s historical drama Prithviraj was supposed to be the big Diwali release this year but now its release date is unclear.
Trade experts are quick to point out that these big releases cannot be dished out without metros like Mumbai and Delhi reopening completely, considering that in many cases, the two territories together account for more than 50% of the overall business. It also, however, doesn’t make sense to delay releases like Hollywood because nobody wants to miss out on an opportunity if things improve.
“We’re also looking at overseas markets like the US and Middle East where cinemas have chances of opening up before India," Umrotkar said.