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As cinema halls in Delhi prepare to resume operations at 50% capacity from Monday, Bollywood can now look forward to a decent Independence Day weekend at the movies with some parts of the country witnessing a decline in covid-19 cases. Even though there is no clarity on when Maharashtra will allow theatres to reopen, relaxations in Delhi have provided some breather, following close on the heels of states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana that have also permitted operations. Delhi and Maharashtra, however, together make up over 60% of Hindi box office in the country.

“Finally, the Delhi government, as part of further relaxations has allowed cinema halls to reopen from Monday, July 26. Good news for Bollywood, which is planning to start new releases from the August 13 weekend," independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai tweeted.

“Unless theatres in major circuits (like) Mumbai and Delhi open up business will not take off. Delhi opens tomorrow, hopefully Mumbai will follow by early August along with southern market (except Kerala) for Hollywood biggies to kick start the trade, enabling Bollywood releases," he added.

To be sure, Universal Pictures, producers of Hollywood action flick Fast & Furious 9 have already said the film will release in India on 5 August in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. While the Independence Day weekend could see another Hollywood biggie hit the screens, Akshay Kumar’s spy thriller Bellbottom is also said to be planning to move its date to August from the initial 27 July. The film is also said to be eyeing a 3D version, which rules out a direct-to-OTT premiere. There is, however, no official announcement by Bellbottom producers Pooja Entertainment.

Hollywood studios could be first in line to take advantage of the space in theaters in the initial weeks when fewer Indian films will be available as local producers gradually lock dates. Apart from F9, Warner Bros will bring films like The Suicide Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Boss Baby: Family Business, Dune and M. Night Shyamalan’s Old to the big screen. Even after the first lockdown, the US studio had remained at the forefront of theatrical releases, showcasing titles like Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, and Godzilla vs. Kong that had also managed to draw audiences in India. Sony Pictures has titles like Venom, Peter Rabbit 2 and Escape Room 2 ready.

“Producers will wait to release the big-budget films until exhibitors get 100% seating capacity allowance, but small and medium-budget movies will start releasing at 50% capacity as soon as the government relaxes the rules. As soon as they get an open window or an available date, they will release it," Rahul Puri, managing director, Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas had said in an earlier interview to Mint.

Without doubt, exhibitors across the country are now waiting for a go-ahead from the Maharashtra government to maximize returns for a long-ailing business.

“A good number of cinemas in Maharashtra are in no mood to reopen whenever the state government grants them permission to do so. Their logic is that the government must first grant them their demands, otherwise it does not make sense to restart operations," an article in movie trade website Film Information pointed out adding that like other states, cinemas in Maharashtra are demanding that the fixed part of their electricity bills for the lockdown be cancelled, property tax not be charged for the period, among other things. While the state government has promised to look into the matter, exhibitors in the state are awaiting concrete measures for what they deem genuine needs.

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