Theatre owners are making arrangements based on a 'trial and error' method, trying to balance safety and entertainment.

An empty theatre hallImage for representation
Coronavirus Cinema Tuesday, June 02, 2020 - 14:38

With the lockdown forcing all movie theatres to remain shut in the past couple of months, there's hope and despair alike among theatre owners in Telangana as the Centre has now announced that the theatres can reopen in the third phase of Lockdown 5.0.

With the hope of reopening the screens again, some theatres have started making arrangements based on a 'trial and error' method, combining safety and entertainment aspects.

But, on the other hand, many owners also worry and doubt if the audience will turn up at all, considering the pandemic scare, and if the shootings and post-production of movies will be completed by the time theatres get ready for screening. Besides, no date has been announced yet to reopen the theatres.

Combining safety and entertainment

A single-screen theatre called Sudarshan in Hyderabad is planning to leave some seats vacant to ensure physical distancing among the spectators. However, the same is not finalised and it will be on 'trial and error' method initially, said its owner Balgovind Raju.

"We will adopt the best methods possible to prevent people from getting infected after coming to our theatres,” said Balgovind. “Yes, it is a hectic and cost-intensive process to re-arrange the seating system, but we cannot help it as we do not have any other option. We have to take whatever measures are necessary to protect people who are coming to theatres, to strike a balance between safety and entertainment."

Some theatres are planning contactless purchasing of food. Digital transactions will be encouraged at the theatre, and for people who cannot make online transactions, currency sanitisers will be made available to enable cash transactions.

However, theatres are yet to figure out how to deal with the air-conditioning, as studies have shown that the coronavirus can thrive and spread easily in air-conditioned atmospheres.

Anticipating loss due to reduced capacity

Another major aspect that has many theatre owners anxious is the revenue loss due to the reduction in the seating capacity for ensuring physical distancing.

Speaking to TNM, producer and distributor Daggubati Suresh Babu said that rearranging the entire seating system is not a viable option and reduces the audience by half its capacity. “This is a thin margin business and if we reduce the number of people coming to the theatres, the producers will only incur further losses. It is a big problem for the whole cycle. There are several people dependent on this business," he explained.

"We think the theatres might open in the month of July or August. But, even if we open, whether the audience will come or not, is a big question. We are working with so many unknown factors here. Besides, what if theatres are open but there are no movies to be released? First, we have to start the shootings and see how they go on, and whether the films will get ready for release or not,” added Suresh Babu.

Recommendations by Multiplex Association of India

Recently, the Multiplex Association of India had submitted some measures and guidelines to the government, stating that they would follow them in theatres.

These include spacing out the seats to allow physical distancing; checking body temperature with infrared scanning; making masks mandatory; making PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kits available for purchase; placing hand sanitisers at strategic locations; deep sanitising theatres and seats on a daily basis, frequent sanitising of washrooms; and only single-use 3D glasses, when necessary.

Some of the safety measures for its theatre staff include making all employees install Arogya Setu app, allowing only medically certified and fit employees come to work, and making masks and gloves mandatory.

As per the plan submitted by the Multiplex Association of India and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), these measures will be followed for the first two months after theatres reopen, and then, depending on the situation, it might be extended.

The association has also requested the government to allow them to reopen theatres between June 15 and June 30, so that they can make arrangements for opening the screens to the audience.