For more than eight months now, single screen theatres have remained closed, forcing owners to consider other options.

A booking counter at a theatre in Hyderabad
Flix Business Wednesday, December 02, 2020 - 18:26

Around 10 single screen theatres in Hyderabad are contemplating closing down as they continue to incur huge losses as they have been shut ever since March 25, when the coronavirus lockdown was announced. Sources in the industry have confirmed that around five single screen theatres have already decided to bring their curtains down, as they are unable to bear the mounting loss in revenue.

Some theatres are even looking to lease out their premises to private companies. According to sources, Megha theatre in Dilsukhnagar, Sushma theatre in Vanasthalipuram, Shanthi theatre in Narayanguda, Sree Rama in Bahadurpura, Sri Mayuri theatre in RTC Crossroads, Amba theatre in Mehdipatnam are some of the many that have been in talks with companies who are looking to rent these theatres to either use as godowns or supermarkets. Some theatres are also being given to contractors to build commercial complexes.

Venkatadri theatre in Dilsukhnagar and Galaxy theatre in Tolichowki are two other theatres that are likely to give way to a commercial complex. Sushma theatre is also reported to have been handed over to make way for a commercial complex. Many of these theatres have already been marked as ‘permanently closed’ on Google.  

Buzzing theatres now lie deserted

Sri Mayuri theatre is one of the many single screen theatres in Hyderabad that now wears a deserted look, ever since the pandemic-induced lockdown. The security at the theatre, who sat with a stick in his hand but chose to skip wearing his uniform, sat dejected. He said that the manager keeps telling him that the theatre will open soon, but he knows that it seems very unlikely. The ticket booking counter that was until a few months ago, buzzing with people, now seems abandoned.

This is the case with many other theatres. During movie releases, these theatres would wear a festive look. With fan clubs of actors decorating theatres and putting up larger-than-life cut outs of their heroes, dance, music and celebration was a common sight. Today, it all seems like faded memories from a bygone era.

Speaking to TNM, Krishna Reddy, in charge of Sri Mayuri said, “We are not leasing out the theatre to anyone. We have decided to reopen the theatre. Hopefully by mid-December, we should reopen.” Sri Mayuri has 950 seats and on an average, the theatre would record collections of around Rs 45,000 to 50,000 each day. Reddy fondly remembers the last screening of a movie in March, a day before the lockdown was declared.

Though Reddy denied the claim, multiple sources in the industry have confirmed that Sri Mayuri was in talks to lease out the theatre to a supermarket brand, but as they couldn’t come to a mutual agreement, the deal had to be called off.

Spacious theatres: Ideal for companies

Speaking to TNM, Balgovind Raju, owner of Sudarshan 35MM and Devi 70MM theatres who is also the Secretary of the Exhibitors Association in Hyderabad explained why theatres are being approached by companies. He said, “Companies like Amazon need a large space, within the city, to use as godowns. Supermarket brands like More, Spencer’s etc are also approaching theatres asking for the premises be leased out to them.”

M Balakrishna, the manager of Shanthi theatre in Narayanguda explained how Shanthi theatre also has a proposal from a company. “We have not reached an agreement as yet, but we do have a proposal. Though the government has given permission to run theatres with 50% capacity, there are no movies to run. Even if we run movies, it will be a loss. It makes more sense to lease it out at least based on the present circumstances. At whatever rate we lease it out, it will be better than running the theatre.”

For around eight months now, the 20-odd staff members at Shanthi theatre were being given their salaries despite the theatre being shut down. The management plans to lay them off considering the mounting expenses.

Speaking about the expenses that theatres are incurring, Balakrishna explained, “Throughout the lockdown and even now as theatres remain closed, around Rs 1.2 to 1.5 lakh per month is incurred as expenses for power, staff, maintenance etc. If we start screening movies, the loss will double to 3 lakhs per month because of lesser crowds. It makes more sense to rent it out to companies. This is the reason why many theatres are looking at this as an option.”   

Industry still hopeful

Balgovind Raju, Secretary of the Exhibitors Association in Hyderabad, still seemed hopeful. He said, “There are around 70-80 single theatres in Hyderabad. A lack of content is the major issue. By the end of January, we hope to be running with full strength. Those contemplating closure may reconsider their decision if help comes their way. There isn’t any death knell as yet. If the market comes back into action things can fall back in place.”

‘Many more theatres likely to follow’

Though some of the owners are still hopeful, many in the industry feel that the government stepping in and making an announcement in favour of theatres can go a long way in helping them survive. One of the managers said, “If for another couple of months, the situation remains the same, then many more theatres would also have to shut shop”.

According to Balgovind, if the government again allows parking fees to be collected from people who come to watch movies, then it would go a long way to help theatres. He said, “Theatres have only three revenue generating sources. The ticket, parking and the canteen. A major part of the ticket cost goes to the content producers. Not allowing theatres to collect parking had a lasting impact on theatres. The government can still intervene and do something.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Exhibitors Association in Hyderabad confirmed that some of the single screen theatres who are ready to start screening movies will open in a staggered manner in December.

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