NEW DELHI: In the run-up to reopening of cinemas after a four-month lockdown, several movie theatre owners have realised they will need to invest large sums in repair and refurbishment before they can resume operations. From new screens, speakers and projectors to seating and carpeting, the average cost of bringing back a decent-sized auditorium could go up to ₹3.5 crore. This will be in addition to the expenditure on safety and hygiene measures such as sanitisation booths, skill training for staff, disposable cutlery and so on that exhibitors have promised to regain the confidence of audiences.
"We’ve been doing calls with theatres that have remained shut for months and realised they will have to take quite a hit even before they can reopen," said Preetham Daniels, senior vice-president, Asia, at movie screen manufacturing company Harkness Screens.
In a closed auditorium that remains shut for weeks on end, humidity builds fast, especially in April and May, Daniels explained. A full coating of moisture can form on the surface of the screen, electrical equipment such as speakers and projectors can start storing water while seats and carpets can develop fungus, making a case for repairs.
“The life of an average screen, for instance, is four to five years. But in this case, a screen bought even three years ago can show signs of deterioration and will have to be replaced, if not immediately, at least in the next six months," Daniels added.
Vendors and infrastructure providers like Harkness have been working with theatre owners especially since malls reopened and some maintenance work has resumed to help with repairs. They are offering special covid discounts of up to 20%, in a relief for theatre owners who have seen zero revenues amid the pandemic-induced lockdown.
Mohan Umrotkar, chief executive officer, Carnival Cinemas, said maintenance expenditure of theatres could go up by 20-30% over the next six months. Exhibitors are equally aware that despite precautions, audiences are unlikely to flock back in huge numbers immediately.
Bihar-based independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan said as a theatre owner one has to be proactive - visiting the property regularly to ensure it is sanitised and cleaned, and that air conditioners are switched on and off.
"There has to be an internal desire but a lot of theatre owners have also let go because they’ve gotten so disheartened," Chauhan said referring to the digital premiere of several big-ticket films, bypassing theatrical release over the past few months including Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo, Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, Ajay Devgn’s Bhuj- The Pride of India, Alia Bhatt’s Sadak 2, among others.
For single screens that have anyway felt alienated by Bollywood’s multiplex-catering, niche, urban stories, off late, the writing on the wall is clear.
“This has been the final nail in the coffin," Chauhan said.