Cinema halls have reopened after the pandemic, but exhibitors say they are struggling to bounce back in business.
Lack of new content, missing magic of big Bollywood entertainers and fear of the virus have all led people to avoid the cinematic experience, forcing theatre owners run shows with empty seats.
Last month, cinemas in several states including Delhi-NCR opened doors to patrons after seven months. The government of Maharashtra also announced reopening of theatres across the state on November 5, with 50 per cent occupancy.
These are positive signs for the film trade but they pose new challenges, mainly pertaining to luring people back into the theatres.
“The initial response has been slow primarily because of safety concerns, norms with respect to occupancy limits and the lack of new content. Patrons however have responded well to new regional content released. Increased confidence amongst patrons on the safety measures undertaken by the exhibitors, new big releases, ,further relaxation on occupancy limits and re-opening of cinema halls pan India may drive increase in footfalls,” Chandrashekar Mantha, Partner, Deloitte India, told IANS.
Ashish Saksena, COO (Cinemas), BookMyShow, added: “With the majority of the key cinema regions including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Punjab now getting ready to entertain audiences on the big screen, we expect the revival cycle to accelerate, with new and largerscale film releases getting ready to hit cinema screens across India.”
The reopening brought back previously released films like “Housefull 4”, “Street Dancer”, “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan”, “Tanhaji”, “Thappad”, “John Wick 3”, “Hellaro” (Gujrati), “Vedalam” (Tamil), “Dharala Prabhu” (Tamil)”, “Din Ratrir Golpo (Bengali)” and “Carry On Jatta 2” (Punjabi). There were few new releases as well like “My Spy” and “Ebhabei Golpo Hok” (Bengali) as well.
That hasn’t been enough to revive the thriving movie-going culture just yet.
“Nothing much has improved. The occupancy is around 10 per cent, which is expected with old films re-releasing. We need new films to release to get people back in the theatres,” Raj Kumar Mehrotra, general manager at the Capital’s Delite Cinema, told IANS.
According to trade analyst Girish Johar, the response to the reopening of theatres has been muted.
“The scare factor is still looming large. The audience isnot very comfortable about going to the theatres, as the fear factor is still in their minds. We all know that the cases are rising, and the government has also said that there will be a rise in cases because of the winter months. That is the reason viewers are staying away. Also, there is dearth of new content,” Johar told IANS.
There is a growing consensus that fresh content is critical to infuse life to the dulling movie exhibiting industry.
“We are yet to reach the usual operational benchmarks, largely due to the absence of fresh content, which is a key to the revival of the cinema exhibition sector. The impact of lack of new movies is visibly evident with single digit occupancies observed in most of the states. The only exception is the state of Bengal, where the turnouts have been fantastic, due to new Bengali movies getting released,” said Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure Ltd, about the fact that the exhibition business in Bengal did see some good business during Durga Puja.
Tandon highlighted another factor, which is turning out to be an obstacle in revival of cinema halls in India.
“With an intention to draw maximum audience, content producers are waiting for the seating guidelines to be relaxed and for remaining states to allow cinema operations. The cinema industry currently is caught in a precarious situation, where it is getting impacted by the lack of new movie content on one side, and producers’ unwillingness to release new movies till the relaxation of guidelines, and reopening of cinemas all over India,” he added.
Film exhibitor Vishek Chauhan had also expressed his disappointment on Twitter saying that while Hollywood studios are pushing the release of their tentpole films, in India, these “US-based OTT platforms are cleaning up the slate of Bollywood and very smartly”.
The road to recovery is a long one.
The latest KPMG report, titled “A Year Off Script”, stated that “the recovery will be gradual and may take at least 3-4 quarters before occupancy normalises. In-line with box office collections, in-cinema advertising and music rights will see slow recovery over next two years”.
“The bigger films will wait as the lockdown in Europe is going to affect the release of big films, but smaller one will start coming in soon,” said Rajesh Thadani, who pointed out that all the re-released films have performed averagely.
Till that time, cinemas will keep the show running, and wait for the patrons to return to the cinematic experience.