Lockdown has hit the Indian film industry badly. This has affected the lives of thousands of people who associate with film film exhibition and other activities of the film industry.
In an attempt to understand the impact of lockdown on the movie business, Onmanorama reached out to PV Sunil, Managing Director, Carnival Cinemas, a leading film exhibition firm in the country. Here he shares his thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 on the industry and the likely changes in industry after the lockdown period.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
The lockdown has affected the film industry badly. How bad is its for movies in general and Carnival Cinemas in particular?
This depends how long the impasse is going to persist. Since this is an entertainment business and during the time of crisis movie comes last on people 's mind the lockdown has the potential to spoil all the money that has been invested in the movies. However, we hope that we would be able to recover and swing back if the deadlock doesn't last more than three months. But we also foresee a positive aspect in this scenario.
Most people like to watch movies. And this is the cheapest means of entertainment. Though there is a kind of revolution in movie-watching thanks to various online platforms, people have realized that nothing can replace the joy of watching a movie in the theatre. So, the positive side I mentioned was that after spending so many days locking themselves up indoors people would love to break free from the shackles of lockdown and pandemic fears and enjoy the cheerful environs of the theatres. We are planning for the safe return of audience to the theatres as well. I think the melee will take at least six months to settle down. In my opinion big releases can wait as the audience will be too thin initially. People too should feel safe in the theatres, right?
What are the major challenges you are facing now?
As a corporate, the main challenge Carnival Cinemas is facing at the moment is maintaining the properties across the country and abroad, with no revenue being generated. We have over 500 screens in India, including the 50-plus screens in Kerala. We employ 5,000 directly and around 20,000 indirectly. We are paying them the salary. No salary cuts or lay-offs are on our mind right now. We've formed task force committees at each location of our properties to assist our needy employees. We can move ahead undeterred by the crisis for three months, but after that it's going to be tough. At this moment, I should mention the support extended by mall owners. We've 155 rented properties and the owners of some of them have agreed to support either by waiving or by reducing the rent. Lulu mall in Kochi and the Mall of Travancore in Thiruvananthapuram have declared the waiver voluntarily before anyone requested for it. It'll be tough but I am sure we'll tide over the situation.
What do you think the government can do to address your issues?
The government can do a lot. But the present concern of all is the safety of humanity and the curb of the pandemic. Besides, we cannot leave everything to the government. However, we have written to the PM and CMs to address certain issues like, extending the moratorium, each bank may have their own distinct monetary policy though; waiving the minimum demand charges of electricity, to which the Gujarat government has agreed, bearing 50% of the salary of the workforce to maintain the manpower and so on.
What will be the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on the society and film industry?
I'm no one to comment on the impact on the society. Yet, personally, I feel that the human tendency to take everything for granted will be overthrown after this crisis. People might give more importance to social values and may adopt a more caring attitude. Regarding the movie industry, especially the exhibition centres the small players might take a hit. Multiplexes may tide over the situation. A possible solution in my opinion for the single screen operators is that, if they are shut down the bigger chains should be willing take them over. So, the players in the showbiz shouldn't be competing but supporting each other to live together, so that the whole industry survives. Carnival Cinemas is already in discussion with other operators in this regard.
Back into business, when the dust settles, what do you think is the best way to begin the move?
Movie exhibition is a multi-crore business and the producers should sit together and plan a strategy to release the movies. I think there is no point in releasing all the the pending movies together. The exhibitors are planning seat separation and this itself will cause a huge downfall in the volume of audience. So, I think it won't be wise to release big budget movies at the outset after the lockdown is lifted. For example, releasing a movie like 'Kunjali Marakkar' starring Mohanlal, which is said to be the biggest budget film ever made in Kerala, to a scantily filled theatres won't be making enough business, no matter how well the film is made. But at the same time safety of the viewers will be our first priority. Carnival Cinemas is planning a drastic cleaning and hygiene regime covering every touch point of the customers, sanitizer use and social distancing after each exhibition. Masks and gloves will be provided on request at the centres for a nominal cost. We'll deploy enough staff to ensure all safety measure are in place.
What are the movies that Carnival Cinemas is looking up to post lockdown?
There are around five to six movies in the pipeline in terms of production and distribution, including Mere Desh Ki Dharti, a Carnival Motion Picture film, delivering a noble message, then there is Carnival Movie Networks overseas distribution of Coolie No. 1, Roohi Afzana, Bachchan-starrer Jhund and the co-production of Malayalam movie, Malik starring Fahad Faasil.
What is your advice to the Malayalam movie industry?
My request to each one of those in Malayalam film industry is not to plan anything separately. Put all the differences aside and whoever is involved in films - whether it's the producers, directors, actors, distributors or exhibitors - should sit together and chalk out a strategy to move forward so that it helps everyone survive.