Distributors, exhibitors elated with Maha opening theatres: First step of normalcy for us

·5-min read

Mumbai, Nov 4 (PTI) Film distributors and cinema hall owners on Wednesday welcomed Maharashtra government's decision of opening theatres and multiplexes outside containment zones from November 5, saying preparations are in full swing to start afresh.

While the call to open theatres in the state, which is the hub of the country's Hindi film industry, has made many cinema stakeholders happy, those who were hoping to capitalise the festival season of Diwali believe it is a development that has come 'a little late'. After the Centre allowed reopening of theatres and multiplexes on October 15, halls in several places, including Delhi and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, resumed function with stringent dos and don'ts in keeping with the new normal.

However, theatres in states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Chhattisgarh had remained closed since the lockdown, which was imposed to contain COVID-19 in March.

According to the state guidelines announced on Wednesday, cinema halls, multiplexes and drama theatres in Maharashtra have been allowed to operate with 50 per cent of seating capacity, with no eatables allowed inside. Physical distancing and sanitisation must be ensured.

Leading distributor Akshaye Rathi, who owns eight theatres in Maharashtra, said the decision has come as a relief at a time when the business was 'crippled' due to the lockdown.

'We are very happy with this decision of the government, this is first step of normalcy for us. All these months we continued paying taxes and salaries to our staff despite zero income. The sector is crippled financially and we would need support of the government, production houses, and content creators to revive it,' Rathi told PTI.

Rathi said he would open cinema halls around Diwali with a mixed bag of films, including filmmaker Christopher Nolan's espionage thriller 'Tenet' and the upcoming comedy satire 'Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari', starring Manoj Bajpayee, Diljeet Dosanjh and Fatima Sana Shaikh.

Manoj Desai, executive director of G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir, said while a final decision is yet to be taken on which films he would screen, he's already considering several options.

'The preparation are on in full swing, we are planning to start showing 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' in the matinee show at Maratha Mandir,' Desai said of the popular romance drama, which celebrated its silver jubilee on October 20.

The spectacular run of the Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol-starrer came to a sudden halt in March due to COVID-19.

Desai told PTI they have also procured licence for films 'Baaghi 3', 'Angrezi Medium' and a Marathi film at their other theatres.

While Tiger Shroff-starrer 'Baaghi 3' had suffered the most due to the shutdown of theatres, 'Angrezi Medium', Irrfan's swansong, had braved the panic around the virus spread by going ahead with its release in March.

Nitin Datar, President, Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, said reopening of cinema halls is a joyous moment for everyone associated with the film industry - from owners, exhibitors to workers.

'Producers and exhibitors were reluctant to release Hindi films because theatres were yet to reopen in Maharashtra as it is the hub of the entertainment industry. Now, everyone is happy,' Datar told PTI.

According to Datar, the government should have made the announcement earlier, so that by Diwali the business would have started picking up.

Rajasthan-based senior distributor and exhibitor Raj Bansal also echoed a similar sentiment.

'It has come out a little late because we may not be ready to release a big film on Diwali. Wish it was decided about a week ago, so we would have been in a better situation.

'But this is a welcome decision because Maharashtra was important for film industry to open as most business comes from the state. We will now look forward to big releases,' Bansal told PTI.

Datar, who owns a theatre in Mumbai which is under renovation, said planning has begun to resume activity at his other cinema hall in Satara.

'We have called our staff members from tomorrow, we are toying with the idea of what films to showcase, the only problem is of content, what new to show. We will open by Diwali, which is from Monday,' Datar said.

Due to the shutdown of theatres, several films, including Amitabh Bachchan's 'Gulabo Sitabo', Vidya Balan starrer 'Shakuntala Devi' and 'Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl' headlined by Janhvi Kapoor, released direct to digital platforms.

Rathi said discussions are currently on whether to screen films which were released on OTT platforms, adding it will be a joint decision of theatres, producers and exhibitors.

Ashish Saksena, COO - Cinemas, BookMyShow, said they now expect the revival cycle to accelerate with new and big scale films, which would get ready to hit theatres across India.

'We recognise that we are in extraordinary times and is mindful of the health and safety of all - from cine-goers to cinema partners, production houses and execution agencies.

'We have been closely working with our partners across the cinema industry to build measures for a safe and healthy movie viewing experience and are thrilled to welcome audiences back to the silver screens,' Saksena told PTI.

Rajendra Singh, Chief Programming, Inox, said this was a much awaited news.

'Maharashtra is one of the biggest states and highest contributor to box office of around 25 to 30 per cent overall for everyone,' Singh told PTI.

Singh said 90 per cent of the market is opened and he is hopeful new films will start releasing soon and audience will come to watch.

'We will open with old content as no new films are releasing. As of now, (we will start work) in 225 screens across India barring few states where permission are yet to come,' he said. PTI JUR KKP RDS RDS