Home / News / India /  Theatres in south India in no rush to re-open

NEW DELHI: Theatre owners across most of India may have scrambled to resume operations the moment government permits came in earlier this month, but those in the south of the country, particularly single screens owners in Tamil Nadu, are in no rush. Instead, they have said they will reopen cinemas with new titles and not re-runs of old films.

This is because the south Indian box office is still driven by films led by big stars wh have immense reach and theatre owners are willing to wait for these big-ticket offerings, some of which are complete, to hit the screens.

About 70-75% of the exhibition sector in south India is currently taken up by single screens, while the remaining is with multiplexes, say film industry experts. The multiplex count was expected to double between 2019 and 2021, before the pandemic.

“Theatres in Tamil Nadu, especially singe screens, are clear they want to open with fresh new Tamil content, and not re-runs. As it is, there are six to eight films censored and ready for release," independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai tweeted earlier this week.

Apart from superstar Vijay’s Master, Ajith’s Valimai, spy thriller Dhruva Natchathiram, and Suryah’s Iravakaalam are waiting it out for an opportune time to hit the big screen.

Unlike Bollywood which is screening older hits like Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Thappad, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, Kabir Singh, Kedarnath and Uri-The Surgical Strike in states that have permitted cinemas to function, no south Indian producer has released an old blockbuster nor have cinemas, largely an unorganised community of single screen owners, insisted on playing re-runs.

While theatres in bigger cities of Karnataka such as Bengaluru have re-opened, those in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and many in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are still waiting for permits. Occupancy in theatres in north India running older films has remained an abysmal 5-7% though West Bengal, with its slate of new releases for the Durga Puja festival managed a healthy 30-45%.

Rakesh Gowthaman, managing director of Vettri Theatres in Chennai, said it will definitely be a slow burn for cinemas to get back to business.

“There will be fewer titles on offer and only regular movie buffs will come to begin with, and that too in small groups," Gowthaman had said in an earlier interview to Mint, adding that single screens are likely to continue with their rule of running four shows per day with a minimum gap of 20 minutes between two shows to sanitise and disinfect auditoriums. Food and beverage sales will also see a steep fall, he said.

Trade analyst Pillai said the recovery of cinemas will also depend largely on the resolution of the contentious VPF (virtual print fee) issue which has theatre owners and producers in a tie. Once physical prints were replaced by digital projectors, producers had been bearing the cost. With their revenues being hit, producers expect theatre chains to pick up the tab of digital projection. “We, as producers, are clear, that no new film release is scheduled by our members till the solution to the VPF issue is achieved with theatre owners," the Association of Active Tamil Film Producers tweeted.

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