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New Delhi: Bollywood studios and producers may have announced a slate of new films for release in theatres over the coming weeks, but a spike in covid cases, the upcoming IPL (Indian Premier League) season and Ramzan may derail movie business recovery, trade experts fear.

Yet film exhibitors are keeping their fingers crossed for things to improve by the end of April when Bollywood biggies like Sooryavanshi are slated to hit the screens. In the interim, smaller films will test the waters with expectations that covid cases will dip and restrictions in states like Maharashtra will ease.

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Mumbai and Delhi territories contribute almost 50% to the film business. With Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra seeing a spike in cases, trade expert feel that films may lose 10-40% of their overall earnings. Curfews and restrictions in territories like Nagpur, Pune, Amravati and Jalgaon, many of which saw cinemas and malls shut over the weekend, have led to considerable impact, said trade experts, with a film like Mumbai Saga that released last Friday, seeing nearly 40-50% dent to its business.

Exhibition chains also foresee some disruption caused by cricket’s popular T20 tournament, the Indian Premier League, that kicks off on April 9. “The tournament has a long schedule and there are some matches that are important to their individual states so we try and programme shows before and after them so as to ensure there is no clash," Kunal Sawhney, senior vice-president at Carnival Cinemas said adding that Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai tend to be the big cities that see the impact.

That’s not all. All India revenues of films may be affected as a section of the audiences will be observing Ramzan expected to commence mid-April and avoid film theatres. In fact, the business of commercial entertainers like Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi will be affected as it releases during the holy month. The dent will be bigger for single screen cinemas which primarily cater to the mass market and, which, unlike multiplexes, cannot play multiple films at the same time across screens.

Despite these challenges, exhibitors, both single screen and multiplex chains, are expecting to bounce back on the back of new films having seen the industry contract by 67% over FY21. “Rising infections are a cause of worry but we’re hopeful that by the time Sooryavanshi releases (April 30), the vaccination drive will be expedited to cover all age brackets," Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer – INOX Leisure Ltd said.

Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Ltd said blockbuster movies featuring mega stars have a national audience and fan following that transcend geographical and demographic boundaries. “Maharashtra being the hub of the cinema industry with 50% occupancy being allowed will impact revenues as multiplex chains have significant share of screens in that territory. However, Bollywood movies have never been confined to regional audience preferences as there is a significant population of Hindi-speaking cosmopolitan movie-goers in every state of India," Dutta added.

In addition, summer vacations for children will drive the film business given that both Bollywood and Hollywood have planned their releases for summer, Dutta added.

Rajesh Mishra, CEO, Indian operations at digital service provider UFO Moviez India Ltd that has recently made its foray into film distribution, agreed that though the restrictions in Maharashtra will typically impact the last show of the day in most theatres, there is reason to believe things would settle down in time for Sooryavanshi.

“However, we still feel that the relaxation to 100% occupancy by the remaining four states currently at 50% occupancy namely Maharashtra, Kerala, Jharkhand and Rajasthan will add to more movies getting released. Looking at the robust line-up of movies and pent-up demand among audiences, we are hopeful that box numbers will improve significantly," Dutta added.

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