Cinema halls are scheduled to reopen with safety restrictions in many cities across India seven months after they were shut due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Special guidelines have been issues by some states to reopen the theatres as part of the 'Unlock 5' phase initiated by the Centre.
Theatres across the country had to shut their doors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown triggered by it. The ministry of home affairs in its 'Unlock 5' guidelines issued on September 30 allowed the reopening of cinema halls from October 15 with up to 50 per cent of their seating capacity but left it to the states to take the final call on granting them permission.
As per the Centre's guidelines, cinemagoers will have to download the Aarogya Setu app on their mobile. There is a complete ban on eating and drinking while watching the film. The audience will have to be seated according to alternative seating arrangements and there will be a cross mark on the seat that cannot be occupied.
The entire system of purchasing tickets will be online and the air conditioning will be adjusted as per laid down guidelines. Entry and exit gates, seats, and lobbies will be sanitised from time to time and the cinema halls will be cleaned after every show, it said.
Everyone in the cinema hall will be required to stay in masks and management will have to provide sanitisers to the viewers, it added.
However, it is unlikely that any major releases would happen in the immediate future as industries including Bollywood have pushed the upcoming big films to 2021 while most mediocre and small budget films of the year have already been sold to OTT platforms.
The cinema halls in Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and some parts of Madhya Pradesh will resume functioning from Thursday while Gujarat will open them from Saturday.
However, the cinema halls in the Northeast will not reopen on Thursday. Theatres, distributors and content providers said that movie goers will have to wait for some more days as the official notifications are yet to be issued by the states in the region.
Even as the Goa government has allowed re-opening of cinema halls from Thursday, theatre owners in the state have said the facilities will not open until new films release.
Kerala movie halls unlikely to open soon as COVID cases peak
Various film-based organisations of Kerala is decided it was not the right time to reopen the halls as the state had been witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
A meeting, under the aegis of the Kerala State Film Development Corporation, discussed the issue on Tuesday, but with the daily number of Covid positive cases peaking, and crossing 10,000 on two occasions, the general consensus was that it may not be feasible to open them from Thursday.
Already with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressing fears that the months of October and November might see Covid cases peaking, various film-based organisations also held the same apprehensions and that even if cinemas open from Thursday, there will be hardly any people who will turn up.
Meanwhile, popular comedian and character artiste Suraj Venjaramoodu, who won the Kerala Government's best actor award announced on Tuesday, wished that like all in the industry, he is eagerly wanting for the old normal to return, as that is the only way the film industry will be happy.
"All wish that normalcy returns at the earliest and the crowds return to the theatres. The wait for it has been too long and it has taken a heavy toll," he said.
Plans to re-release old hits
The few films being touted for the festive weekends have not confirmed release yet. In all this, a new, makeshift trend has emerged: Exhibitors are banking on re-releasing old content, hoping what worked once will woo the audience again.
Sushant Singh Rajput's last theatrical release "Chhichhore" is among the films that will have a big screen re-release.
On Wednesday, trade analyst Taran Adarsh announced on his verified Twitter account the names of several old films that will be re-released once the theatres re-open this week. There include the late Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer "Kedarnath", Ajay Devgn's blockbuster "Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior", the Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff action blockbuster "War", the Ayushmann Khurrana comedy "Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan", "Thappad" starring Taapsee Pannu and Mohit Suri's ensemble cast hit "Malang". Several other films will also be doing the rounds all over again.
Raj Mehrotra, CEO Delite Cinemas, Delhi, told IANS: "We are opening from Friday, 16th October. We will begin with four shows of 'Housefull 4' and two shows each of 'Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan' and 'Street Dancer 3D'."
Quizzed about what are they doing to pull the audience to a theatre running old films, he replied: "We have witnessed that people are feeling bored at home, sitting and watching television and OTT programmes. They want to come out. We have reduced our admission rate drastically so that couples and families can come and watch films together."
However, the trade is not very optimistic. The situation certainly is not compatible to good ticket sales. With cinema halls opening only in select states as of now and that too at 50 per cent capacity, the industry does not see much scope for good business.
Film trade analyst Amod Mehra finds the idea of re-releasing old films impractical. "This appears to be a big joke. Why would anyone risk their lives to go and watch old films in theatres? Because there is no film to be played, they are experimenting. It doesn't make sense. The same thing was done in Dubai, but it didn't work," Mehra told IANS.
He points at another big problem. "Theatres are not opening in Maharashtra from where at least 33 per cent business is derived. It's not practical. It's a foolish attempt. Let's wait and watch."
It's a wait and watch situation for theatre owners, too. They are reopening business after seven months, and hoping for the best under given situation.
The situation is no better in regional circuits. Debajib Sarkar, Administrative Officer at Kolkata's Jaya Cinema, said: "We are opening the theatre from October 16 with 50 per cent seating capacity as per the government's SOP. We begin with one show each of 'Kedarnath' and 'Chhichhore' because no Bengali films are available before October 21. We will screen new Bengali films once they release."
BookMyShow adds safety shield tag
With many cinema theatres set to re-open later this month, online ticket booking platform BookMyShow (BMS) has added a new safety shield tag to help create awareness about the various safety and hygiene measures available across various properties listed on the platform.
The 'My Safety First' safety shield tag has been rolled out across BMS' web and app platforms in collaboration with cinema partners all over India.
Created using BMS' robust consumer and data analytics, this safety shield feature will highlight the best practices being followed by all cinemas across India, according to a statement.
It will list various safety indicators available across every cinema listed on the platform such as in-cinema seat distancing, thermal screening, contactless security check, availability of hand sanitisers, and daily temperature check for staff members, among others.