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A still from Baaghi 3
A still from Baaghi 3

Covid-19 outbreak magnifies the woes of single-screen cinema halls

  • Single-screens were looking forward to big releases such as ‘Sooryavanshi’ and ‘83’ this summer
  • The number of single screen theatres have steadily reduced in India, from 7,031 in 2016 to 6,327 in 2019

NEW DELHI : Just days after the management of Maya Palace invested 2 crore to add one more auditorium to its single-screen property in Muzaffarnagar, disaster struck. It was also around the time when Tiger Shroff’s action thriller Baaghi 3 had just started setting the cash registers ringing in this small town in Uttar Pradesh. But all the excitement came to an abrupt halt with the government suspending operations in view of the virus outbreak.

Scores of single-screen theatres across India, which have been braving the onslaught of large multiplex operators for years, are now fighting a new demon—covid-19.

According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment report 2020, the number of single screens in India has been steadily declining—from 7,031 in 2016 to 6,327 in 2019. Now, with salaries and fixed expenses mounting amid the nationwide lockdown, it is a battle for survival.

According to Pranav Garg, managing director, Maya Palace, people who flock to single screens usually belong to lower income groups and are expected to take longer to get back to normal life after the lockdown. “After the crisis is over, even if the middle and upper-middle class make it to multiplexes, single screens will still be at a disadvantage."

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, said that single screens were looking forward to big-ticket entertainers such as Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and sports drama 83 this summer. “In case of the big, massy films, they can bring in 50-60% of the overall returns, but those come perhaps once a quarter. Otherwise, these theatres simply subsist on fillers," he said.

Pravin Chalikwar, a director at Priti Cinemas in Maharashtra’s Parbhani, said the crisis for single screens has only been worsening since the advent of multiplexes, and the pandemic has definitely added to their woes.

“There are several distributors who don’t even supply films to single screens like Priti. Further, several distributors ask for minimum guarantee to take the film to single screens. So, if the film bombs, the theatre loses it all," he said.

Most of the single-screen operators are making losses and the bigger worry is nobody knows whether the 21-day lockdown will be called off after 14 April.

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