No big releases in 2020 as uncertainty remains over cinema hall attendance

This comes even as key Hindi film territories, especially Maharashtra, reopened their movie halls today
Film buffs waiting for a Salman Khan-starrer or an Akshay Kumar action flick will have to be a little more patient. Blockbusters such as Radhe, starring Khan, Sooryavanshi, featuring Kumar, and others such as sports drama 83 and Aamir Khan’s Lal Singh Chaddha have been pushed to 2021 as film producers are uncertain whether audiences will return to cinema halls just yet.

This comes even as key Hindi film territories, especially Maharashtra, reopened their movie halls today. While the seating capacity is capped at 50 per cent, it is still good news for the Bollywood film industry that earns around 20 per cent of its theatre revenues from Maharashtra alone.

“It is undoubtedly very important for cinemas across the country to open up so that the producers can start planning the release of new films,” Gautam Dutta, chief executive officer of multiplex chain PVR Cinemas, said in a recent interview to Business Standard.

The bad news, however, is that multiplex operators will not see new blockbusters this Diwali season — something they had been hoping for. Besides, film producers, too, barely have time for marketing and promotional activities.

Given the 50 per cent limit, big-ticket movies will have to be shown in double the number of theaters or the number of shows will have to be doubled, sector experts say. This will make it difficult for distributors to keep a tab on their budgets, which explains the reluctance of producers to release the blockbusters over the next two months.  

“We will have to depend on small- and medium-budget releases,” says P V Sunil, managing director, Carnival Cinemas. “There is fresh content coming, but not the blockbusters.”  

Dutta of PVR Cinemas said there was a need to continue building confidence in viewers so that at least some of them step out to watch films.

Among the small- and mid-budget films that will be released over November and December are: Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, Bunty Aur Babli 2 and Jayeshbhai Zordaar.

“Diwali is less than ten days away and this period will not be enough for film producers to promote big-ticket movies. Hence, the focus on small- and medium-budget films,” says Komal Nahta, a trade analyst.

“Though cinema halls are reopening in some of the key states, there is no guarantee of the audience turnout, given that there is a heightened sense of hygiene and safety among people. This has led to a vicious cycle of wait-and-watch among producers. I am hoping the logjam ends,” he says.

Producers and distributors are now waiting for Hollywood sci-fi, Tenet, to light up the big screen around Diwali. Warner Brothers, the studio behind the film, and multiplex operators are, however, yet to announce the date of Tenet’s release.

Audience turnout is crucial to most exhibitors, since their discussions with film producers hinge on how many people will return to movie halls in the weeks ahead. This is because around 40 per cent of a movie’s revenue comes from the box office, which is, in turn, dependent on footfalls and ticket price.

While the average ticket price for multiplex operators is Rs 150-200, the first few months will see a 20-25 per cent discount to encourage visits. Discounts are also expected on food and beverages, with bookings, check-in and food ordering all going contactless as part of the standard operating procedures.

Nahta says that the October-December period this year may continue to be weak for the sector due to lack of compelling content. “But I expect a strong comeback in 2021.”

The new year is still some way off.

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