Finally, the Maharashtra government has given the green-light to open cinema halls in the state, from Thursday onwards, with a maximum of 50 per cent occupancy. And that news has come as “the lifeline of sorts” for the film exhibition sector. After all, the Mumbai circuit alone contributes 40-45 per cent of a film’s total box office earnings.
“That’s why, it wasn’t surprising that no maker was ready to release their films in theatres earlier, for other circuits,” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh, adding: “It’s a great relief. We have pressed the reset button, so now, the fingers are crossed. But it was imperative that cinemas in Maharashtra open at the earliest, for the entire movie exhibition business.”
Although no Bollywood film is up for an immediate outing even as theatre owners “start to chalk out reopening plans”, Diwali is likely to see the release Manoj Bajpayee-Diljit Dosanjh starrer Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, and possibly a couple of smaller films besides some Hollywood fare.
“Undoubtedly, theatres reopening is great news. But it remains to be seen how things work out on the ground. Would people turn up at theatres? And in what numbers? Also, a number of people, especially those who watch Bollywood films, must have spent their savings during the lockdown just to survive, so will they have enough spare money to go for entertainment?” says director-writer Anees Bazmee.
With most of the potential money-spinners having already been sold to OTT platforms, experts see a number of small and mid-budget films taking up theatre space till the end of year, “unless there’s is a surprising development.” After Sooryavanshi (that was supposed to open on Diwali earlier), now, Reliance Entertainment has decided to move Kabir Khan’s Christmas outing, ‘83 to 2021 due to lack of time for marketing purposes and theatres in certain overseas markets getting reshut due to Covid-19.
At this point, the biggest challenge for exhibitors are going to be “streamlining content.” “We are happy about business getting restarted but sorting out programming is going to be a major challenge. But we hope that things are going to be a lot better by December,” says exhibitor-distribitor Akshaye Rathi. Adarsh, on his part, feels “pre-Covid days’ release pattern” will be back now. He says: “Except those films that are already committed to OTT platforms, now, it will be like pre-Covid days when films would be released in theatres first and then on other platforms.”
What gives industry insiders confidence is the fact that “the fear of the virus is ebbing.” As Bazmee puts it: “Also, since people are out on the roads, restaurants, malls and markets in numbers, we can hope and expect that they would visit theatres too. After all, so many people’s livelihoods and jobs are at stake. So, let’s see.”