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NEW DELHI : Single screen cinemas across the country are pinning hopes on Hollywood hit franchise Fast & Furious that releases its ninth instalment this Friday, including dubbed versions in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

The action franchise is very popular in small-towns. Its 2015 instalment was the first Hollywood film to cross the 100 crore mark in India.

Reopening their cinema halls after the second covid wave has not borne fruit for single screen theatres. While Akshay Kumar’s Bellbottom didn’t draw crowds, many theatres could not screen it on account of steep minimum guarantees.

Many are considering not renewing their licences and convincing local authorities for permits to convert to other businesses.

In the south, cinemas continue to struggle with curfews and restrictions on night shows besides ceiling on ticket prices.

F9 is a huge brand in India and has its own set of loyalists," said Bihar-based independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan agreeing that the Hollywood film would have dented the business of Bellbottom had they released on the same day, as was initially planned.

The film release was pushed forward to be able to cash in on the opening of the south Indian market since its major territories, include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, and has particular appeal for young students, according to Pranav Garg, managing director of Maya Palace, a two-screen cinema in Muzaffarnagar.

“While Hollywood content has traditionally represented a modest share of box office collections, we’re doing all we can to safely accelerate the revival of cinemagoing in India," Denzil Dias, managing director, Warner Bros. Pictures, India, had said in an earlier interview to Mint, referring to the company’s upcoming slate. Warner will be distributing F9 in the country.

The one handicap for most Hollywood films in India is that they only go to DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives)-compliant theatres, ensuring they are completely out of reach for the non-premium single screens in tier-II towns. While hundreds of single screens are DCI compliant, some really small-town ones may not be.

DCI is a joint venture of several film studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros, to set up a common set of requirements that ensure a high and uniform standard of digital cinema viewing.

With cinemas remaining shut in Maharashtra and several others not having opened up fearing the third wave, has resulted in a 1,000 screen count for F9, half of what it would have notched up in pre-covid times.

Other than restrictions, the lack of exciting new fare remains the biggest challenge for single screen cinemas that are trying to negotiate with local authorities to waive fixed electricity charges and in many cases, haven’t been able to settle employees’ dues. Just to be able to reopen for Bellbottom, many would have had to invest 20 lakh- 25 lakh on upgrading sound and projection systems. Big-budget films such as RRR and KGF-Chapter 2, incidentally both southern films that will be dubbed in Hindi, are highly anticipated in north India but have already been moved to early 2022 when the situation will be better, their makers feel. After F9, single screens do not have anything to look forward to in the near future.

“Families haven’t begun coming back to theatres yet. Either they are still scared (of infections) or are satisfied with what is on offer on OTT (over-the-top) platforms," said Dinesh Gupta, owner of Dimple Cinema in Karnal.

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