NEW DELHI :
Multiplex chains across the country, during the coronavirus lockdown, have been putting together safety measures that will help them regain the trust of people, as soon as cinemas reopen.
Multiplexes will take adequate time to sanitize and disinfect auditoriums between shows in the beginning, which would lead to fewer shows per day and fewer films that can be screened at a property.
“We were looking at about five shows per screen in a typical three-screen property before the pandemic given that most films run over two hours and need time for interval and advertisements. We are looking at reducing at least one show per screen everyday," said Mohan Umrotkar, chief executive officer, Carnival Cinemas adding that this would mean losing around 20% of the business opportunity. In a city like Mumbai where malls and multiplexes are allowed to remain open 24/7, there still may be chance of recovery but in most other cities and small towns, the same isn’t possible. However, safety of audiences comes first.
“It may not really matter in the first few months because the bigger movies will not arrive in a bunch, they will wait to gauge the response of audiences. Plus, this is a temporary phenomenon," Umrotkar said. Carnival is also looking at timing shows in such a way that entry, exit and interval points of two shows do not clash and audiences of more than one auditorium do not gather in the lobby or washrooms together.
Chains like Carnival, PVR and INOX are also planning to reduce seating capacity in standard auditoriums by around 30%. According to a notification sent out by the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) along with Ficci, global cinema standards dictate that while families and couples can sit together, one adjacent seat on both their sides would be left empty to account for social distancing. This will not hold true for luxury auditoriums like PVR Director’s Cut or INOX Insignia where there is already adequate space between two seats.
“Lesser shows being operated and lesser seats being assigned may appear like a loss of revenue, but we will not be looking at revenues when we resume operations. The unutilized seats will be like our investment we will be making towards winning the faith and confidence of our patrons," said Alok Tandon, chief executive officer, INOX Leisure Ltd.
Further, MAI mandates require body checks with infrared scanners, masks and PPE kits made available for purchase, hand sanitizers to be placed at all strategic locations, encouraging contactless ticketing and online ordering of food and beverage with single-use disposable packaging for the same. Single –use 3D glasses will be used while premium IMAX 3D glasses will be disinfected after use. Only medically certified and fit staff will be allowed to come to work with the Aarogya Setu app mandatory for all of them besides wearing masks and gloves.
Earlier this week, PVR chairman and managing director Ajay Bijli said they expect cinemas to reopen by mid-July though there is no official central or state government mandate on the same. Movie theatres across India have been shut since the middle of March and for the first time in the history of their operations in the country, have reported zero revenues.
Despite these many measures, some players are still cautious.
“We’re expecting to start slow. Even if we roll business out, people will not come at least initially so we don’t expect to see any profits," said Rakesh Gowthaman, managing director of Vettri Theatres in Chennai referring to the fear and paranoia of large crowds among people.