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Single screen operators feel that producers’ decision to premiere their films on video streaming platforms will not affect them much once they are allowed to re-open their cinema halls (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
Single screen operators feel that producers’ decision to premiere their films on video streaming platforms will not affect them much once they are allowed to re-open their cinema halls (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Covid impact: Single screens pin hopes on big-ticket entertainers

  • The spat between multiplex chains and film producers on releasing their films directly on digital platforms may also work in favour of single-screen theatre owners
  • Theatre owners are looking at increasing ticket prices once they re-open given the additional expenses involved

New Delhi: The country’s 6,000 single-screen theatres, comprising 66% of the total cinema screens, appear more resilient than multiplex chains, pinning their hopes on new, mass-based film releases for business revival. Across India, movie theatres have remained shut for over two months due to the covid-19 induced lockdown.

Single screen theatre owners are banking on big-ticket, mass entertainers slated for release in the second half of the year, including Rohit Shetty’s action thriller Sooryavanshi, Salman Khan’s Radhe, Varun Dhawan-starrer Coolie No.1 and sports drama ‘83 to revive their fortunes post lockdown.

Film industry experts say that the spat between multiplex chains and film producers on releasing their films directly on digital platforms without waiting for theatres to re-open, may also work in favour of single screen theatre owners who are not part of the tussle. They expect more producers to turn to single screens than deal with multiplexes. For mass entertainers, a big chunk of the business still comes from single theatres in small towns.

Single screen operators feel that producers’ decision to premiere their films on video streaming platforms will not affect them much once they are allowed to re-open their cinema halls.

“The conversation on direct-to-digital releases is mainly being carried out by the national multiplex chains, where we don’t have much of a representation but we are hopeful the trend will not continue," said Pranav Garg, managing director, Maya Palace in Muzaffarnagar.

While two Hindi films, Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo and Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi- Human Computer have already been acquired by Amazon Prime Video, Garg said there are rumours that Ludo, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Jhund, Lootcase and Laxmmi Bomb will also seek digital release.

“These will not impact us much and not too many others will go to digital platforms either. We are thankful to producers like Yash Raj Films who’ve said they will release their films in theatres first," Garg said.

While there are producers who have made the intention to wait for theatrical release clear, Pravin Chalikwar, a director at Priti Cinemas in Maharashtra’s Parbhani, said films will not be able to recoup their budgets from digital sales alone. He cited the example of Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji- The Unsung Warrior that had run to packed houses in his cinema earlier this year, the film could have never made the 269 crore earnings that it managed from theatrical, by going to an OTT platform.

The financial crisis for single screen owners is equally grave. The smallest properties across states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are spending a minimum of 1 lakh per month on staff salaries and fixed electricity and maintenance charges that the government hasn’t waived, without any earnings.

Consequently, the owners are looking at increasing ticket prices once they re-open given the additional expenses on sanitization, mass for staff, online ticketing systems as reducing seating capacity by at least 50-60% to account for social distancing. “We may look at an additional charge of Rs. 50 per ticket but the real challenge will be to win the trust of audiences, especially families," Garg said.

Exhibitors across the board say people in small towns are willing to shell out the money if you give them an experience of value.

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