There was a sigh of relief as well as joy among the exhibitors as audiences returned 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 remained shut for about seven months starting mid-March in 2020 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The business restarted for a few months starting from October and November in various parts of the country as the number of Covid-19 cases plummeted.
However, the pandemic returned with a devastating second wave in the country in April this year, leading theatres to be shut down once again.
As the country witnessed a drop in Covid-19 cases, from July-August onwards, states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana gave permission to resume operations in cinema halls.
But Maharashtra, a key market and home to the Hindi film industry, remained shut.
It was only in September when the Maharashtra government announced that theatres will reopen from October 22, with 50 per cent capacity and other key protocols.
Since then, cinema owners, producers and audiences had been waiting for the day to arrive.
Today, the exhibition industry is thrilled to bits and have expressed gratitude to the audience for coming back to cinemas.
Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures, said 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 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 releases on November 5, he added.
“It is a matter of time when Sooryavanshi releases next month, we will see 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 measures, cinemagoers are required to wear masks and maintain social distance, thermal screening at entry points is mandatory and hand sanitisers will be made available.
Leading film 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 believes that the audiences are not fearful, courtesy the aggressive vaccination drive conducted by the authorities.
“There are people 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.
Dhariya Vora, an event manager, said he is elated to be back to enjoying movies 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 gave their consent to reopen theatres in the state, filmmaker Rohit Shetty announced the release date of his much-awaited movie Sooryavanshi.
The other big films that will hit cinemas soon include Antim, Satyameva Jayate 2, Bunty Aur Babli 2, among others.
Many theatre owners are pinning high hopes on Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, the first Bollywood tentpole film 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, executive 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 actually 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 expressed hope about things picking up in the coming days.
Sunny Chandaramani, an exhibitor, who has 18 to 20 single-screen cinemas in Pune, said the business has been little low since morning, but he isn’t feeling dejected.
“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 told PTI.
Another cinema owner Nitin Datar, who has a theatre in Satara, said big Bollywood stars 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 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.