Set for muted opening after 7-month closure, theatres eye Diwali fireworks

Exhibitors estimate that only about a third to half of their properties would screen films on Day One Photo: PTI
October will be a sluggish month even as some theatres get ready to reopen this week after a seven-month closure. In a setback for the movie business, states known for cinema including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala are yet to permit movie halls to reopen. So, exhibitors estimate that only about a third to half of their properties would screen films on day one. 

For instance, Inox will open around half of its 147 properties on October 15, taking the number gradually up in the coming weeks. PVR and Carnival Cinemas will reopen on October 16, again with a smaller number of properties ushering in film buffs.

PV Sunil, managing director, Carnival Cinemas, says that the exhibition industry is expecting November and December to be better months. "The big turning point for the industry will be November 15, which is Diwali. We are expecting some new releases then. The next big date after that will be Christmas Day. The strategy for most players in the intervening time will be to build confidence among consumers to make their way back to movie halls," he says.

Initially, while cinema halls grapple with Covid-19 protocols and safety issues, the audience will have to make do with older films. Insiders point out that a pipeline of new movies is there, but the date of release is unclear. "Most will wait and watch from October 15 to November and see what the trend is like on audience turnout. If the movie halls manage to get a capacity of 30-40 per cent, film producers will go ahead with their releases. But, if capacity is 5-15 per cent only, it will not be viable for them to release their films. They will postpone it to a later date," according to trade analyst Komal Nahta.  

Conversations with distributors and film exhibitors reveal discounts on ticket prices are being planned to attract audience. Audience turnout is crucial to most exhibitors, since their discussions with film producers hinge on how many people will make their way back to move halls in the weeks ahead. Around 40 per cent of a movie's revenue comes from the box office, which is dependent on the footfalls in cinema halls and the pricing of tickets.

While the average ticket price for multiplex operators is around Rs 150-200, the first month is expected to see a 20-25 per cent discount on ticket prices to encourage footfalls. Discount offers are also expected on food and beverages, with bookings, check-in and food ordering all going contactless as part of the standard operating procedures adopted by players. 

Adding to the challenge is the 50 per cent seating cap. It means that big movies will have to be shown in double the number of theatres or the number of shows will have to be doubled, according to analysts.

Nahta says that big-ticket films such as Sooryavanshi, 83, Bunti And BabIi, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar are ready for release, but no dates have been finalised yet for launch in theatres. Hollywood movie Tenet is expected to release in November, possibly during the Diwali week. The producers of 83, starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, will stick to the release date of December 25. But Sooryavanshi will move into January of 2021.

Of the 9,600 screens in India, 70 per cent are single screens and 30 per cent are multiplex screens. But multiplexes earn more than half of India’s theatrical revenues, putting the pressure on them to ensure that safety, hygiene and content standards are met.

But single-screen theatres cannot be completely written off, experts tracking the market say, adding that many have opened discussions with film producers regarding movies that have been released on over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

A senior executive of Zee Studios, which showcased the Ishaan-Khattar-Ananya-Pandey-starrer Khaali Peeli on Zee 5, Tata Sky, Airtel DTH and Dish TV as a rental offer this month, says, “We are getting a positive response from single-screen exhibitors for our movie Khaali Peeli and we hope to get a release in around 200 screens across the country."

Around 20-25 films, which were slated to be launched on the big screen this year, were pushed as digital-first releases on OTT platforms during the height of the pandemic and lockdown. The move was opposed by big exhibitors, who saw it as a breach of trust. Many made it clear that they would not consider films which were released to digital platforms, a point they continue to stick to.

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