Second wave of pandemic plays spoil sport for theater business

The Malayalam cinema industry which has been struggling hard to recover ever since the first wave of the Covid 19 is now staring at uncertainty, as the state is witnessing a more severe second wave of the pandemic. The government has announced a night curfew in the state in an attempt to curb the spread. Besides, it has ordered the theaters to shut down after 7.30 pm, cancelling the second shows. However, the theater owners have decided to function by strictly observing the pandemic protocols and other instructions given by the government.

Screens off at 7.30 pm

Important decisions were made at the emergency online meeting convened by The Film Exhibitors United Organization of Kerala. The meeting which was presided over by President K Vijayakumar decided that the theaters could function by rescheduling the show timings and the number of shows too. However, the association didn’t say that all the members should open the theaters. Those who are interested to exhibit movies can function by rescheduling the shows. Meanwhile, others may close down the theaters until things get better. “We have asked the theaters that wish to function to end the screenings by 7.30 pm,” FEUOK general secretary Sumesh Joseph Manarkattu told Manorama Online.

The first wave

The theaters that were shut down in the first week of March last year after the lockdown was announced could reopen only in January this year. Though every other production and service sector was opened in stages, the entertainment industry had to wait longer for their turn. The state government had decided to open the theaters only after various film organizations had appealed constantly. 

Meanwhile, the daily case load too was showing a downward trend. The government had given permission to exhibit shows from 9 am to 9 pm. The theaters were allowed to admit audience only in 50% of the seating capacity. However, permission wasn’t given to conduct second shows. Tamil movie Master was the first movie to be released in theaters after 10 months. Despite being a Tamil movie, the Vijay starrer that was released on 13 January succeeded in bringing movie lovers back to the theaters. Thousands of cinema workers were relieved when the box offices began ringing in cash. The theater owners who were struggling even to pay the electricity bills could now see a ray of hope.

Second shows

Though a handful of movies were released after Master, they weren’t financially successful. The government order to admit audience only in 50% of the seats and the cancellation of second shows that contributed to 60% of daily revenue had gravely affected the collections. This forced the producers of some big budget movies to push back the release of their films. 

They didn’t want to take a grave risk by releasing their movies when the situation was bleak. Many theaters were forced to cancel shows or close down as there wasn’t any audience. Helpless, the film associations were forced to approach the government again. After studying the situation, the government rescheduled the screening time from 12 pm to 12 am. The remedy for the distress, the second show, was thus allowed in the theaters.

The Priest

Mammootty-starrer The Priest was the first Malayalam movie to hit the theaters after second shows were allowed. Moreover, it was the first super star movie that got released after the lockdown. The movie turned out to be a Box office success, inspiring the cinema workers. More movies were released as families who were reluctant in the beginning returned to theaters. 

The audience watched movies, wearing masks and by following the pandemic protocols. Even though the audience was admitted only to 50% of the seating capacity, they were glad that the second shows were back. The theaters began to get lively almost after a year of gloom.

However, this was not meant to last longer as the second wave of Covid-19 blasted the state like an unpleasant villain.

No new releases

The latest developments indicate that there won’t be any new releases of Malayalam films at least until the second week of May. Star which was slated to be released this Friday has been postponed. Meanwhile, the theaters would continue screening movies like Nayattu and Chathurmugam that are already running. The cinema industry and the audience hope that there would be Ramadan releases by the second week of May.

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