Cinema Halls Likely To Open In India Mid-July, Predicts Ajay Bijli of PVR Cinemas

Indian cinema halls will be likely allowed to re-open as soon as mid-July, according to Ajay Bijli, the chairman of PVR Ltd and the owner of country's PVR Cinemas chain.

Like most non-essential businesses in the country, movie theaters were forced to close their doors in mid-March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, delaying the release of major blockbusters, thereby causing a huge financial hit to the entertainment industry.

During an interaction with CNBC-TV18, Bijli discussed when people should be able to return to their local cinemas.

"After this new lockdown 4.0, there is still no visibility of when cinemas will open but we had always taken enough forecasts in our assessments that we would open 1st July onward. I got some indication that malls may open from June 15, but malls have a very strong inter-dependence on cinemas as well because cinemas do generate footfalls. So, I think about two weeks or maximum three weeks after the malls opening, we should open," Bijli said.

"A lot of films have bunched up together which are ready and even post production is over, so I do believe a lot of those movies will start probably releasing from July 15 onwards. They may have some trial period where even we need to get our act together; get the cleanliness going; train the staff and all that for the new way to go about until the vaccine comes and people's fears come down. So I'm looking at maximum by mid August for things to really pick up," he added.

Even as the battle between movie theatre owners and OTT platforms intensified after Amazon announced seven new movies to be premiered on Prime Video, Bijli is optimistic that movie-going will be back to normal once the lockdown is over as theatres generate maximum revenues for film business.

"People are consuming OTT just now and even before Covid-19 they were consuming because that's one more way of watching content but I think it's inherent in the human nature to entertain themselves, especially in our market. It's too much into a fabric in our culture to go out and watch movies. So just now we have been doing a wrong comparison."

He further said, "I feel the situation will be completely different once the cinemas open up because it just doesn't make any economic sense to let go of 60% of the revenues that still get generated from theatrical. Theatrical is the first window where revenues get generated, and after that comes OTT and then broadcasting. And, that's a very big chunk. So, if you look at the overall pie, say roughly about 15,000-16,000 crores net box office revenue of India out of which 11,000 crore is still the box office collection so the rest is 4,000-5,000 crores is what you get from other platforms plus the overseas gets disrupted if you don't play on the theatrical; music rights don't get sold. So, there are a lot of things that don't happen if you straight away go to the OTT.

"So mathematically and economically speaking, it is only happening as an aberration because you don't have a situation where cinemas are locked down for three months. So, bigger movies like Sooryavanshi, '83, Radhe and Coolie No. 1 and a lot of other Hollywood blockbusters that are lined up for release are all waiting. I'm in touch with everybody."