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NEW DELHI : The southern movie industry, which had so far held on better to business and was on its way to recovery, is now looking as dismal as Bollywood. A couple of its films even managed to collect Rs100 crore at the box office (Master and Vakeel Saab) yet others such as Telugu movies Krack and Jathi Ratnalu and Kannada action drama Yuvarathnaa and Malayalam horror mystery The Priest, did well, too.

But the industry is now staring at a blank slate with most southern states having shut down theatres, except Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and no new films being released in May.

Among those who have announced pushing forward their Eid releases are Telugu studios Suresh Productions and Konidela Pro Company's Venkatesh-starrer Narappa and action drama Acharya, featuring Chiranjeevi.

The other Eid release, Mohanlal’s epic historical war film Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, will now arrive on 12 August 2021, the actor said on social media.

“Things are really bad in the southern film industry and cinemas are unlikely to be back before the end of May," independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said.

The coming months will see some disruption in activity as monsoon sets in, and most big releases will be pushed to August, Pillai pointed out.

Even before government restrictions had formally come in, he said a lot of cinemas had stopped functioning fully and films such as Dhanush’s Karnan released early April, had lost steam after their first week in theatres.

To be sure, big titles such as Karnan and Pawan Kalyan’s Vakeel Saab had gone ahead with theatrical releases in April even as Bollywood pushed films such as Sooryavanshi, Bunty Aur Babli 2 and Chehre, and witnessed cinema shutdowns in key states such as Maharashtra and Delhi.

South Indian cinema industry was bouncing back as it had taken only a few films directly to digital platforms. This helped preserve its theatres, particularly the single screen business. With the rapid rise in covid cases and situation turning grim for India, more and more southern film-makers are now in talks with video streaming platforms to premiere their films.

“The sense is that there is no point waiting for cinemas to reopen since people may not come back in huge numbers soon enough," said a single screen owner adding that films such as Master, Karnan and Hollywood flick Godzilla vs Kong helped save their business and pay staff salaries over the past few months but there is complete uncertainty looming over the sector now.

According to a film trade expert, smaller-budget titles with no star value will be worst hit once theatres reopen as the success of films such as Master and Karnan shows there is draw primarily for big stars. Over the past few months, a clutch of small films, including romantic drama Care of Kaadhal, horror thriller Idhu Vibathu Paguthi and Vijay Sethupathi’s romantic anthology Kutti Story, went completely unnoticed, he said, declining to be named.

“A houseful show like pre-covid days seems impossible to achieve now. Theatres can survive but the 50% occupancy cap may not go away. Cinemas will have to be remodelled into smaller auditoriums for fewer people," Pillai added.

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