Opening theatres with 25% capacity will be a financial disaster with far-reaching repercussions for the film and the industry.

A man walking outside a movie theatre in Bengaluru holding an umbrella and there is a sign that says box officeImage Credit:
Flix Politics Monday, July 27, 2020 - 18:01

With unlock 3.0 in the offing, the Centre is expected to announce relaxations for sectors like theatres and gymnasiums. Highly placed sources in Karnataka Chief Minister’s office tell TNM that BS Yediyurappa is keen on allowing reopening of theatres, if the Centre leaves the decision to the states. But with restrictions that are reported to come with it, most producers, distributors and theatre owners seem reluctant in resuming exhibition of movies in the state.

The Chief Minister, in his discussions on unlock 3.0, as per sources, has maintained that he would give opening theatres and gyms a green signal, subject to clearance from the Centre while he has reservations about opening swimming pools and schools. Since most other sectors are already functional in the state, he is reportedly of the opinion that life should get back to normal, as much as possible so that people get used to the ‘new normal’. 

But when TNM spoke to stakeholders in the Kannada film industry, it looked like the move will not have many takers. With the string of restrictions that the relaxation will likely come with, including alternate row seating, mandatory sanitisation of seats after each screening and capping hall capacity to 25%, it might not be financially feasible to start theatre operations. In addition, most in the industry are highly sceptical about how many people will risk coming to theatres given the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. 

Speaking to TNM, president of Karnataka Film Chamber Of Commerce (KFCC), DR Jairaj said, “For at least another 15 days to a month, states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu do not plan to resume operation of theatres. In such a situation, when other language movies will not be released in Karnataka,  it will not make any business sense to operate theatres in Karnataka. It only makes financial sense for us if all language movies are being released.” 

Producers in the state too, while acknowledging they have already incurred huge losses, do not seem thrilled at the prospect of releasing movies in the current situation. Commenting on the same, Jairam said, “The producers too believe it is not financially viable for them to release their movies at this time because they need to recover the money they have spent on making the movie. If theatres were being allowed to open at least with 70% occupancy it might have made sense but with 25% it will not work out for anybody”. 

Industry experts also believe that if theatres are opened now and in case of producers running into huge losses, close down again, then it will take a very long time to get people back to the theatres again. They believe that the audience will further lose confidence to come to theatres to watch movies and that will have a long-term bearing on audiences’ movie-watching habits. 

Chairman of the Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy, Suneel Puranik too echoed similar sentiments. "While it is good news that theatres might open, it is very difficult for us to get people to come to theatres now despite permission to open.  The rent of theatres are fixed on a weekly basis and if people do not come, the producer will be under immense loss. Irrespective of how much business a movie does. The producer will not be able to recover any money. It is a huge dilemma for all of us and for the entire industry as well.”

Suneel further added, “The situation is so bad that there are no beds and patients can be seen lying in the corridors of many hospitals. In Bengaluru alone, over 2,000 cases are being reported every single day. In the last 10 days, 20,000 cases have been reported in Bengaluru. Now with the number of tests being conducted increasing, we can expect the number of positive cases also to increase. In the last ten days we have seen a huge change in  the mindset of people here in Bengaluru nobody wants to take a chance anymore.” 

The repercussions of a movie not doing well also has ramifications beyond the box office collections, Suneel said. “When films produced are unsuccessful in the box office then it will impact other aspects of revenue generation also. For example, OTT platforms, satellite channels and dubbing rights too get impacted if a movie is deemed as a failure.” 

While it is difficult to assess the exact loss incurred by the Kannada film industry during the pandemic, some insiders believe it is approximately Rs 700 crore. A total of at least 15,000 families have been financially impacted as those working in the industry, including those working in projector rooms and as security guards in theatres, have been rendered jobless or salaries cut because of shutting down of theatres. 

Despite the dreary situation, several single screen theatre owners are not eager to start operations despite getting permission to do so. And many of them, on the condition of anonymity, told TNM that a pan-India multiplex giant is flexing its muscles, lobbying hard to get permission from centre to open theatres. 

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