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A report by The Guardian said drive-in cinemas are seeing a further boost following coronavirus, which is expected to last beyond the immediate crisis, as people seek socially distanced entertainment. (AFP)
A report by The Guardian said drive-in cinemas are seeing a further boost following coronavirus, which is expected to last beyond the immediate crisis, as people seek socially distanced entertainment. (AFP)

India’s top multiplex players eye drive-in cinemas to bounce back to business

  • PVR Cinemas, INOX Leisure Ltd and Carnival Cinemas are looking to tap into new streams of revenue as consumers remain wary of cinema halls
  • The investment on drive-in cinema spaces could range from 3-5 crore per property depending on the size of the land, and even go up to 8 crore

NEW DELHI: After more than five months of shutdown resulting in zero revenues, India’s top multiplex players are eyeing drive-in cinemas to be able to bounce back to business by the end of this year or early next year. Information shared by realty consulting firms and film screen manufacturers on the condition of anonymity shows that even the top cinema chains are exploring the drive-in options to generate revenue.

With consumers still wary of being confined in closed auditoriums for hours to enjoy a film experience, companies like PVR Cinemas, INOX Leisure Ltd and Carnival Cinemas are looking to tap into new streams of revenue across states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

PVR and INOX did not respond to Mint’s queries but Carnival admitted there has to be a new normal.

“We have identified three locations in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kochi and are looking for more (for drive-in theatres)" said PV Sunil, managing director at Carnival Cinemas.

“There have to be alternative forms of entertainment now," Sunil added.

Abhishek Sharma, director, retail at Knight Frank, a realty consulting firm, said the company was in talks with a UK-based chain as well as an Indian player, details of which he could not disclose, for drive-in cinemas in and around Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Punjab for a total of around 20 properties. The investment on these could range from 3-5 crore per property depending on the size of the land, and in some cases, even go up to 8 crore.

To be sure, India has been home to a few drive-in cinemas over the years such as Sunset Drive-in-Cinema in Ahmedabad, Prarthana Beach Drive-in-Theatre in Chennai, Under the Stars in Bengaluru and Gurgaon Talkies in the national capital region, but these have found it tough to discover an audience so far. Most cities in India are either too warm or too cold for most of the year, and that doesn’t help the cause of open-air screenings. In fact, even current plans of multiplexes only account for screenings to be held after 4 pm, restricting the number of shows per day. Drive-in is a popular concept in countries like the US, where there were nearly 330 cinemas at last count. A report by The Guardian said they are seeing a further boost following coronavirus, which is expected to last beyond the immediate crisis, as people seek socially distanced entertainment.

However, challenges in India abound.

“One problem with drive-in cinemas is that you can’t use the same screen outdoors that you would use indoors (in a closed auditorium) because it would keep reflecting light," said Preetham Daniels, senior vice-president, Asia, at movie screen manufacturing company Harkness Screens that has also received demands for screens from single screen owners in tier-two and tier-three towns. Further, while most theatre chains would prefer to include food and beverage prices as part of the overall ticket rate, GST rules in India don’t allow that. Sunil said overall ticket prices could be higher than a regular multiplex and inching towards Rs. 600, given that you’re essentially paying for car parking.

“Theatre owners are also waiting it out to see when the government allows congregations of people and how film producers accept this change because that would determine the content programming," Daniels said. In the past, drive-ins haven’t been able to discover the perfect distribution model to license new or recent movie releases, with many resorting to cult classics such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Jab We Met.

“There are no real disadvantages as a format but it’s not a proven model in India," Daniels said.

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