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India has already lost around 12% of its cinema hall screen count during the Covid-19 pandemic. (ANI)
India has already lost around 12% of its cinema hall screen count during the Covid-19 pandemic. (ANI)

Indian movie stars, filmmakers speak up for cinema halls

  • Actors Taapsee Pannu, Sonam Kapoor and Dia Mirza have spoken on social media about the viewing experience offered by movie theatres
  • With mainstream stars turning to OTT releases during the pandemic-induced lockdown, cinema halls have incurred huge losses

NEW DELHI: After receiving a lot of flak for not standing by the theatrical business that is responsible for much of their stardom and fame, a bunch of film stars and studio heads have started speaking up on the importance of the big screen experience. Movie theatres remain shut as part of the government’s unlocking guidelines for September and cinema owners have taken to digital protests over the past week using hashtags like ‘Support Movie Theatres’ and ‘Save Cinema Save Jobs.’

After some delay, some popular faces have also expressed their solidarity.

“New normal or old normal, it’s only normal if cinema is treated as an experience and not just a viewing. Waiting to get back to theatres soon," actor Taapsee Pannu tweeted this week. She was responding to colleague Sonam Kapoor who went to watch Christopher Nolan’s much-awaited spy film Tenet in the UK and said, “So I went to watch Tenet in the cinema today. Firstly, the incredible experience of watching a film on the big screen is unparalleled…nothing compares to cinema, the big screen and its magic. Nothing."

The two were joined by actor Dia Mirza who said she couldn’t ‘wait to go back to cinemas and experience the magic of the movies.’ The move from the Bollywood actors came close on the heels of Hollywood star Tom Cruise visiting the cinema in the UK to watch Tenet.

“Big movie. Big screen. Loved it," Cruise wrote.

To be sure, the initiative was taken slightly earlier by Bengali actors like Prosenjit Chatterjee, Dev, Jeet and others who went public to say the fraternity is keeping its fingers crossed to hear from the government soon and that by following the required SOPs (standard operating procedures), cinemas can provide as safe an environment as any other space. Over the past week, exhibitors have also received support from filmmakers like Subhash Ghai, Boney Kapoor, Baahubali producer Shobu Yarlagadda and others who have emphasized it is time cinemas are reopened with protocols in place.

Taking the lead is Reliance Entertainment that brought out a one-and-a-half minute long video on Friday morning to point to the number of jobs that are at stake due to the temporary but prolonged closure of the theatrical business.

“In India thousands and millions have lost jobs or (suffered) pay cuts with no income of cinema hall owners. Halls are now closed for six months," said Reliance Entertainment Group CEO Shibasish Sarkar. The studio has so far stuck to its Diwali release date for Rohit Shetty’s action thriller Sooryavanshi and the Christmas weekend for sports drama ’83 starring Ranveer Singh.

To be sure, this support for the theatrical platform from a handful of stars and filmmakers comes at a time when several big-budget and medium-scale films have opted out of the theatrical race, bypassing the medium to go directly to video streaming platforms. Many theatre owners have pointed to the fact that ‘stars of the masses’ such as Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn taking their movies Laxmmi Bomb and Bhuj: The Pride of India to OTT spells doom for the theatrical business and makes the platform seem irrelevant. Further, cinema owners and trade experts had previously noted the fact that no popular name had come forward to demand the reopening of cinemas.

“A lot of stars seem to have forgotten that it is the theatres and the audiences who come to them that have made them who they are," Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan had said in an earlier interview to Mint, adding that a lot of theatre owners do not see value in continuing with the business especially after incurring huge losses because of the shutdown. India has already lost around 12% of its screen count with the past week seeing the closure of yet another iconic single screen, Agastya, in Chennai that had been operational since 1967 and was known for screening several Rajinikanth hits.

“Every single screen has an ecosystem, where there are pan shops, food vendors, shops that rely on the footfalls that it generates, at least 10 businesses rely on it, those are suffering. There are 6,000 single screens in this country, do the math," Chauhan tweeted after the Unlock 4 guidelines came out.

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