There was a sigh of relaxation as well as joy among the exhibitors as audiences come back to theatres, which reopened in Maharashtra on Friday with the necessary Covid-19 guidelines in place.
For the first time in the history of cinema, theatres stayed shut for about seven months beginning mid-March in 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The business continued for a few months beginning from October and November in many parts of the country as the number of Covid-19 cases dropped.
However, the pandemic returned with a devastating second wave in the nation in April this year, steering theatres to be shut down once again.
As the country saw a drop in Covid-19 patients, from July-August onwards, states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were authorized to resume operations in cinema halls.
But Maharashtra, a key market and home to the Hindi movie industry, continued shut.
It was only in September when the Maharashtra government declared that theatres will reopen from October 22, with 50 per cent capacity and other key codes.
Since then, cinema owners, producers and audiences had been staying for the day to arrive.
Today, the exhibition industry is fascinated to bits and have conveyed gratitude to the audience for coming back to cinemas.
Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures, told the reaction has been “very strong” in Maharashtra for the multiplex.
“The response has been positive. Hollywood movie ‘No Time To Die is performing exceptionally well in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. There is no ambiguity that people are craving to come back and it is showing in their behaviour,” Gianchandani told PTI.
Things will pick up when Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryanvanshi comes out on November 5, he added.
“It is a matter of time when Sooryavanshi releases next month, we will see a business that we have not seen for many Diwalis in the last few years. So, cinemas are bouncing back in a big fashion. The next three to five months will be the busiest period.”
Among other criteria, cinemagoers are expected to wear masks and retain social distance, thermal screening at entry points is required and hand sanitisers will be made available.
Leading movie exhibitor-distributor Akshay Rathi said the good old days are finally back.
“In Maharashtra, we have 12 theatre chains and the occupancy has been sporadic depending on the film and show. But in the permitted capacity, many films are clocking 20 to 30 per cent occupancy.
“We are thrilled about the reception and love from the audience. There are films like Sharman Joshi’s Bablu Bachelor, Pratik Gandhi’s Bhavai, regional and Hollywood movies that are primarily being shown. The response has been encouraging more specifically for Hollywood movies,” Rathi told PTI.
He thinks that the audiences are not worried, courtesy of the aggressive vaccination drive performed by the authorities.
“People are going to restaurants, malls, travelling so they are more than happy and confident to step out because most of them are double vaccinated,” he added.
Bharatiya Vora, an event manager, said he is cheered to be back to enjoying films on celluloid.
“I watched James Bond’s film at the new property at Jio. I am very excited to be back in cinema halls after so long. I wish it was a Hindi movie as there is a different sort of excitement. However, for me, it is the joy of watching a movie on the big screen,” Vora told PTI.
Soon after the Maharashtra government provided their approval to reopen theatres in the state, filmmaker Rohit Shetty declared the release date of his much-awaited film Sooryavanshi.
The other big movies that will hit cinemas soon comprise Antrim, Satyameva Jayate 2, Bunty Aur Babli 2, among others.
Many theatre holders are gripping high hopes on Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, the first Bollywood tentpole movie to arrive in theatres during Diwali.
Rathi said, “There is no big-ticket Hindi film right now but I am sure the numbers that Sooryavanshi will clock will be unprecedented. Things are looking good.”
Manoj Desai, managerial director of G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir, said, “We have about 50 people watching DDLJ at Maratha Mandir for the 11.30 am show in a 500-seater capacity. The theatre is 1000-seater but due to Covid-19 protocols, it is running at 50 per cent capacity. We will get a clear understanding over the weekend.”
Some single screen owners conveyed wishes about things picking up in the coming days.
Sunny Chandaramani, an exhibitor, who has 18 to 20 single-screen theatres in Pune, told the business has been a little low since morning, but he isn’t feeling bummed out.
“At my theatre chain, we have had Bhavai, Bablu Bachelor but the response is not good. It started with five per cent occupancy. The scenario is a little bad for single screens. Multiplexes are doing well as Hollywood movies are bringing audiences back to theatres. But I am happy the industry is bouncing back,” Chandaramani said PTI.
Another cinema owner Nitin Datar, who has a theatre in Satara, told big Bollywood celebrities to have a role to play in bringing audiences back to the theatres.
“We are hopeful that the situation will be better in the coming days. Only popular films with a big star cast will draw the audience. The average or non-stars will not collect much (at the box office). It will take some time for cinema owners to re-establish and recover their losses,” he said.
Maharashtra reported 1,573 new coronavirus cases and 39 fatalities on Thursday, according to the state health department.