Although fresh unlock guidelines from the state government have given single screen theatres and multiplexes an ounce of hope towards regaining normalcy, with the go-ahead to resume services from Thursday, their path is now jolted with newer obstacles. With no new content for immediate releases available, resistance from distributors as well as the looming fear of a second wave of the pandemic, cinema owners feel that garnering the permitted 50 per cent seating occupancy will be difficult.
“Unlike a grocery store that can just open its shutters and sell products, I need content to show, it has to be lined up first. Secondly, there is resistance from content providers regarding the occupancy as they will not get the full benefit of our seating capacity and hence, their terms with us will vary. Our entire administration has been disbanded. As for our service providers such as the housekeeping staff, the agreements were terminated and we will have to call them back. It is only after all these crucial steps are undertaken that we will be able to open cinemas,” said Prakash Chaphalkar, secretary of the Multiplex Association of India and owner of City Pride Multiplexes.
“Not all screens will be made operational by the multiplexes. We had requested the government to give us a notice period, so that we could take preparatory steps to restart the halls,” he added.
Hemant Panchamia, managing director of E-Square, pointed out that the decision is “very inappropriate” and “badly timed” with respect to the industry’s demand. “There are no releases lined in November and December. With the second wave of Covid-19, all new English releases have been postponed beyond April, so what are we going to show? Subsequently, to get into the new health norms, none of the cinemas in the country will be able to completely adjust as they are not designed that way,” he said.
Highlighting that the cinema industry is subject to patrons who may not adhere to safety regulations that multiplexes and cinema halls are being asked to follow, Panchamia said that their target audience – the youngsters – may not be as disciplined to adjust to the new normal of cinematic experience.
“We cannot expect the multiplex management to keep policing the patrons to follow the safety rules. Moreover, there is a chance of huddling patrons around the restrooms during intervals and simultaneous sanitation is not possible. How long can you keep your intervals without disrupting the flow of the story of the film? There are several operational issues and logistics that are to be considered,” he said.
The sales at the cinemas’ canteens, the major revenue generator, is restricted under the guidelines which further delays the method by which these halls and multiplexes can gain a profitable margin after a slumber of almost eight months.
While 21-year-old film buff Nitin Jadhav welcomes the move and said that it will help revive occupations of ticket checkers, security and other such staffers, city-based cinephile Pratik Sarjoshi (26) said that although he enjoyed watching films on OTT platforms, he is content with the decision. “It is called a cinematic experience for a reason. You get to have a collective experience and response of the audience around you. It adds to the viewing of the film,” he said.
Single screen theatres opt for a ‘wait and watch’ approach
Without any exit policy in place, staffers associated with single screen theatres said that reopening in such dire times does not deem to be profitable in any sphere and there is no scope of quitting the business. Several owners of single screen theatres in the city have decided to wait till a Covid vaccine is made available.
“Single screen theatres have been running in loss since the multiplexes came into being, but the pandemic has worsened the situation. Several members of the association decided that it is not viable to be operational as the financing to execute the restrictions is too high to bear in these circumstances,” said Sadanand Mohol, president of Poona Exhibitor’s Association and owner of Vaibhav theatre in Hadapsar area.
“We will not be able to endure the cost of the restrictions as well as a 50 per cent seating capacity. Even if theatre owners wish to discontinue the business, they are required to seek permission of the government, which is not in place,” said Deepak Kudale, former president of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India.
Dilip Nikam, owner of single theatre Vijay Talkies, said that the skepticism among the audience to come back to cinema halls, disregarding the safety in viewing films on OTT platforms, adds to the woes. “It is a wait and watch situation for us as single screen theatres had been facing tremendous losses even before the pandemic. After the new rule (unlock), people would still prefer to go to multiplexes or better, view uncensored films on OTT platforms. The cost of distributors as well as overhead expenses also leaves razor thin margins for us,” he said.
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