The big ticket movies were missing and ‘houseful’ signs still a dream but it was nonetheless a landmark Monday for the corona-battered film industry that welcomed the first day in 10 months of cinemas in several states opening their doors to 100 per cent occupancy. On Sunday, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar released a new set of SOPs to ensure smooth functioning of cinema halls and permitted 100 per cent occupancy from today. And though there were hurdles aplenty, the decision brought cheer with theatre chain owners, distributors and producers saying it was a much needed impetus for the recovery process of their industry.
With cinema halls shut for much of 2020, producers had stalled the release of big film such as Akshay Kumar starrer “Sooryanvanshi”, Ranveer Singh’s “83” and Aamir Khan’s “Laal Singh Chaddha”. But that could all change now and 2021 could well be the year of ‘cinema entertainment’ with more than 50 films lined up for theatrical release, said industry insiders looking to recover quickly from the losses of the year that was.
“It’s a very positive move by the government, and it’s a big shot in the arm. It will give impetus to the recovery process of the film business,” Kamal Gianchandani, CEO PVR Pictures, told PTI.
“A lot of producers, especially of big films who were unsure about the capacities and when the government would restore capacity to 100 per cent, would feel encouraged to go ahead and release their big films and mid-size films,” Gianchandani added.
Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are among the states that have permitted 100 per cent occupancy after the Centre’s decision. Since the new protocol was released only a day earlier, he said it will take another 10-15 days before all states can issue the same model.
Rajender Singh Jyala, chief programming officer, INOX Leisure Ltd, was also hopeful that this signals a return to normalcy. The relaxation in seating capacity, he said, will help producers plan the release date of their movies that are ready.
“We already had our eyes set on the marvellous content line up for the next 12 months, and therefore we have been saying that year 2021 is the Year of Cinema Entertainment… the industry is poised to see major blockbusters at regular intervals throughout the year,” Jyala said.
Both Gianchandani and Jyala, representing among the biggest multiplex chains in the country, said they have been constantly in touch with producers through these difficult months.
Producer Monisha Advani, co-founder of Emmay Entertainment, whose “Indoo Ki Jawani” had a theatrical release last year, said the government’s decision to open up halls is a reflection of things getting back to normalcy.
“We look forward to welcoming back audiences and expect that a number of films that were held back and are made for this format will be back to entertain India,” Advani told PTI.
Emmay Entertainment has a packed slate for 2021, including Akshay Kumar’s “Bellbottom” and John Abraham starrer “Satyameva Jayate 2”. Terming the opening up of theatres fully a “much needed stimulus”, she said producers will now be encouraged to roll out their films.
“The industry and its ancillaries are employers in large numbers. Putting people back to work, creating more content, are all great signs of a resilient economy. Storytellers and filmmakers are excited to return to the magic of this format and are hopeful audiences will continue to support them,” she added.
Reliance Entertainment Group CEO Shibasish Sarkar, with the eagerly awaited “Sooryavanshi” and “83”, said one of the two might release in the next two months.
“No release date is confirmed yet. As we said earlier also, we are contemplating the last week of March or first week of April for either ‘Sooryavanshi’ or ’83’,” Sarkar told PTI.
Bollywood needs to come together and chart a roadmap for releases if it wants audiences coming in, said Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan.
“The entire industry is waiting for that one spark, a project which will set the ball rolling. The audiences will come to the theatres, no doubt about that, but we need to offer what they want,” he told PTI.
Only a handful of Hindi films have so far opened theatrically, including Manoj Bajpayee-fronted comedy “Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari”, Kiara Advani-starrer ”Indoo Ki Jawani” and “Shakeela” and “Madam Chief Minister”, both headlined by Richa Chadha.
According to Gianchandani, “Madam Chief Minister” in Hindi, “Master” and ‘Eeswaran’ in Tamil are among the many films in different languages that are playing at the box office in different parts of the country.
Though the Centre granted permission to cinema halls, it also issued guidelines to be followed such as adequate physical distancing, mandatory face masks and sanitisation of auditorium after every screening.
Gianchandani is of the opinion that people are getting comfortable with the new normal, which is to return to the old pre-COVID-19 era normal.
“It is validated by the success of ‘Master’, which was released on January 13 and business has been at pre-COVID level, which clearly shows that not just the youngsters but even families have come out and supported the film in big numbers. We cannot do such big numbers without the support of family, so all in all, customer sentiment has improved a lot. There could be some sceptics but the number is reducing fairly quickly,” he said.
Viewers seem to be only too ready. Delhi-based student Kritika Mehra said the SOPs, including staggerd show timings and longer intervals, aren’t a deciding factor for her.
“I am completely open to watching films on the big screen especially because I’ve started to feel OTT fatigue. Small screen is convenient but I am craving to immerse myself in the big screen experience,” she said.
For Mumbai-based radio jockey Saif Ali Momin, the deal breaker is a big movie.
“In the absence of no new, exciting releases, this is pointless. I won’t be going to theatres unless there’s a film like ‘Sooryavanshi’, ’83’ or ‘KGF 2’ . There has to be one big, massive film to draw us in,” Momin told.
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