The MAI had issued SOPs for maintaining social-distancing norms and was prepared to handle all strictures laid out by the government, it said.
India took a decisive step towards unlocking almost everything, with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday lifting restrictions on cinema halls, schools, and swimming pools as part of its fifth tranche of guidelines to revive business and other activities.
Cinema halls, theaters, and multiplexes have been permitted to reopen from October 15, the MHA said, with up to 50 per cent of their seating capacity, for which standard operating procedures (SOPs) would be issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Entertainment parks and similar places have also been allowed.
The MHA said states and Union Territories had been given the flexibility to take a decision on the reopening of schools and coaching institutions in a graded manner after October 15. Swimming pools would be allowed to open for training of sportspeople, it said.
The guidelines have made it clear that states and Union Territories must not impose any local lockdowns outside containment zones without prior consultation with the Centre.
The reopening of cinema halls after six months is a big positive, said experts, though Maharashtra in a separate set of guidelines on Wednesday said theatres in the state would be shut till October 31.
On Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said cinema halls in the state could function with 50 participants or less from October 1.
"The opening of cinemas with 50 per cent occupancy is much better than the earlier indicated 25 per cent cap. This is a positive for the sector, though states such as Maharashtra will not open in October. Other states such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu may also not open in October," Karan Taurani, vice president, research, Elara Capital, said.
The country's leading multiplex operators on Monday had said losses were growing and jobs were at stake with theatres being shut since March.
In a statement, the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) had said the revenue loss to the film exhibition industry was to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore a month due to the closure of cinema halls.
"Malls, airlines, railways, retail, hotels, gyms, bars and metros have been permitted to reopen. Cinemas however have remained closed since March and are better equipped to manage crowds in a stringent hygienic environment," the body said.
The MAI had ssued SOPs for maintaining social-distancing norms and was prepared to handle all strictures laid out by the government, it said.
P V Sunil, managing director, Carnival Cinemas, said it was a "now or never" situation for the exhibition industry, since the October-December period was an important quarter for the sector.
"You typically have big releases between October and December. With cinema halls permitted to reopen in October, we should be able to adjust to the new normal when the Diwali period kicks in by November," he said.
Blockbusters such as Sooryavanshi, starring Akshay Kumar; Lal Singh Chaddha, starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan; and 83, featuring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, are looking at the December quarter for a likely release, industry sources said.
Estimates are that maintenance costs of movie halls could shoot up by 20-25 per cent in the post-Covid world, though multiplexes could compensate for it by cutting headcount within properties as operations increasingly get digitised to minimise contact. Occupancy levels, which before the Covid-19 crisis, stood at 35-36 per cent on an average for multiplexes, could settle at levels of around 25-30 per cent after the initial three to six months’ lapse following reopening.
Some of the measures to be implemented with theatres reopening would be seat distancing, contactless service and rigorous hygiene from entry to exit. Movie-goers would be encouraged to pre-book their tickets and meals, wear masks when watching films and maintain strict lane discipline when entering and exiting movie halls.
Reacting to the Unlock 5.0 guidelines, Chandrajit Banerjee, DG, CII, said these would help improve many affected sectors. "The government's strong message to states to enforce local lockdowns in a very restricted manner and only after consultation with the Centre is most encouraging. Industry has been facing challenges in labour availability and movement of the supply chain and the implementation of Unlock 5.0 will clearly resolve these issues, enabling near-normal operations.”
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