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New state-specific curbs spell doom for cinemas

Trade experts say there is no way Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi will meet its scheduled release date of 30 April. (Photo Source: Twitter @LetsOTT)Premium
Trade experts say there is no way Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi will meet its scheduled release date of 30 April. (Photo Source: Twitter @LetsOTT)

  • The latest curbs come at a time when some parts of the exhibition business were showing definite signs of recovery. Mumbai Saga and Hollywood flick Godzilla vs Kong made more than 60% of their revenues from outside the top three multiplexes in independent properties in small towns

NEW DELHI: After a brief spell of hope instilled by new releases, cinemas across the country are staring at a dismal show again. Fresh curbs in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Rajasthan will see April notch up a Rs200 crore loss at the box office.

While the Maharashtra government has ordered movie theatres to remain shut for April, Rajasthan will have them closed on weekends and Karnataka has revised occupancies to 50%. With key territory Mumbai now off the radar, trade experts say there is no way Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi will meet its scheduled release date of 30 April. Other films like Bunty Aur Babli 2 and Chehre have already pushed back release dates.

“Box office recovery has been completely derailed and it is unlikely that any Hindi or even decent-sized English film will come to theatres this month," film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said. Even if things get better by the end of April and filmmakers can begin planning releases again, it won’t be before the third or fourth week of May that Bollywood returns to theatres, Johar said adding that the industry will, yet again, lose the peak summer months where business is at its strongest.

Even the coveted Eid weekend is now shrouded in uncertainty.

Pravin Chalikwar, a director at Priti Cinemas, a single-screen theatre in Parbhani, Maharashtra, said the impressive collections of films such as Master and Mumbai Saga earlier in the year had given exhibitors like him some hope.

“We were looking forward to the release of Sooryavanshi but all our calculations have gone for a toss now," said Chalikwar who is yet to reopen his cinema after the lockdown and now has his hopes pinned on Eid.

To be sure, the latest curbs come at a time when some parts of the exhibition business were showing definite signs of recovery. Crime drama Mumbai Saga and Hollywood flick Godzilla vs Kong made more than 60% of their overall revenues from outside the top three multiplexes in independent properties in small towns. Single screen owners say people in small towns are starved of entertainment, less paranoid about stepping out, and far less accustomed to web shows on streaming platforms.

Independent exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi said average ticket prices of single screens may be one-third of multiplexes but footfalls are higher. In fact, certain shows of Mumbai Saga had seen 180-190 people in small towns like Bhilai.

“These are audiences that have largely not taken to OTT and to get them back to theatres, you need a to give them a film that appeals to their sensibilities," Rathi had said referring to the fact that there needs to be a consistent supply of big, tent-pole films that are tailored to suit the taste of these demographics. Sooryavanshi and Salman Khan’s Radhe would have fit the bill perfectly if curbs were not imposed.

People in small towns have learnt to live and deal with covid, said Vishek Chauhan, a Bihar-based exhibitor who has seen packed houses for films across Tamil, Hindi and Bhojpuri languages released for festivals like Chhath and Makar Sankranti.

“It’s not like these people are not watching online content, everyone has a smartphone and internet connection. But they also know that OTT cannot compete with theatres," Chauhan added.

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