100% occupancy in theatres: How the first weekend fared

Three southern states – Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka – are now allowing cinema halls to have 100% occupancy.
100% occupancy in theatres: How the first weekend fared
100% occupancy in theatres: How the first weekend fared
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The Union government recently announced that it will allow 100% occupancy in cinema halls. Following this, three southern states – Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Karnataka – are now allowing cinema halls to have 100% occupancy. While many have pointed out the dangers of having that many people in enclosed spaces while the pandemic is still ongoing, certain sections of the film-going audience have found this to be a welcome move.

How did the first weekend since the order, look like in these theatres? Speaking to TNM, N Venkatesh, Chennai Multiplex Owners Association’s Secretary, says that there has been no immediate surge in people walking in, mainly due to the content. “People are slowly getting the impression that there is no harm in coming to cinemas. I am sure that in another couple of weeks, when we have better content, we’ll have a higher number of people walking in,” he says.

In Tamil, following Vijay-Vijay Sethupathi’s Master and Silambarasan’s Eeswaran that released in theatres in January, two other films have released during the first weekend of February. Jiiva and Arulnidhi’s Kalathil Sandhipom and Yogi Babu and Sunaina’s Trip are the two films that have hit the screens this past weekend. Notably, Master, directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, is the first big-budget Indian film to directly hit the theatres, thereby paving way for more to follow suit.

There’s also another reason why there has not been an immediate increase in people walking into cinema halls, according to Damodar Prasad, secretary of Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC). He says that with fewer new films currently running in theatres, the impact of allowing 100% occupancy is not clearly visible yet in Telangana.

“Once the government opens up 100%, the fear factor will be gone. Psychologically also people also get used to the idea that things are getting clearer and theatres are opening. We’re hoping the business will be back on track, we have to wait and watch,” he says.

The most recent Telugu film to have a theatrical release was Zombie Reddy, which released on February 5. “The first-day response for Zombie Reddy was good. Since the number of Telugu films in theatres currently are few, the impact is not clear. But overall, it isn’t bad. From February 12 onwards, there are new releases coming up. Occupancy has definitely increased. On an average 60% to 70% occupancy has been recorded,” Damodar Prasad adds.

With 100% occupancy, how efficiently are theatres able to maintain safety and sanitisation? "We will continue to check people’s temperatures before they enter. Sanitisation too will be followed as per norms. We will make no compromise and put people's safety at risk. No one wants a relapse," says Venkatesh.

In Karnataka, the government has decided to allow 100% occupancy only for February. In Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, however, there has been no clear direction from the government over allowing full occupancy in theatres. Cinema halls in these states continue to follow the 50% occupancy norm with alternate seats made available for booking.

But most industry insiders have strong hope that the industry is surely on its way to how things were before the pandemic. This sentiment is shared by both Tiruppur Subramaniam, President of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association and Arun, a member of the Telangana Cinema Theatre Employees’ Union under CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions). “Over the weekend, when Zombie Reddy released, there were good footfalls of above 50%,” says Arun. 

Among upcoming Telugu film releases is Uppena, starring Vijay Sethupathi, Krithi Shetty and Chiranjeevi’s nephew Vaisshnav Tej, which will be out in theatres on February 12. Later, on February 19, the thriller Check, directed by Chandra Sekhar Yeleti and starring Nithiin, Rakul Preet Singh and Priya Prakash Varrier, is set to release in theatres. The comedy film Jathi Ratnalu, starring Naveen Polishetty, Rahul Ramakrishna, Priyadarshi and Faria Abdullah, is set to release on March 11. 

As for Tamil, there’s the anthology film starring Vijay Sethupathi, Amala Paul and others called Kutti Story (February 12), Tamil remake of the Telugu film C/O Kancharapalem called C/O Kadhal (February 12), Vishal’s Chakra (February 19), and Dhanush’s Karnan (April 9) confirmed for release so far.

(With inputs from Jahnavi Reddy) 

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