Multiplex operators ask Centre to reopen cinema halls as losses mount

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The country’s leading operators on Monday said that losses were growing and jobs were at stake with theatres shut for six months. On Saturday, Chief Minister said that cinema halls in the state could function with 50 viewers or less from October 1.

However, operators said that the would have to issue guidelines before the states stepped in. “We welcome what the chief minister of has said. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs would first have to issue guidelines as part of the Unlock programme, following which states could come out with their respective norms,” PV Sunil, managing director, Carnival Cinemas, said.

ALSO READ: Kolkata movie hall owners await govt order to resume functioning from Oct 1

The buzz about the reopening of theatres has been gathering pace for a few weeks now after repeated representations by and single-screen operators to the government. In a statement, the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) said that the film exhibition industry was losing Rs 1,500 crore a month due to the closure of cinema halls.

This implies that in six months, the the sector lost revenues of Rs 9,000 crore, the body said. “Malls, airlines, railways, retail, hotels, gyms, bars and metros have been permitted to reopen. Cinemas, however, remain closed so far and are better equipped to manage crowds in a stringent hygienic environment,” the body said.

The MAI has already issued standard operating procedures for maintaining social distancing norms and said it was prepared to handle all strictures laid out by the government if cinema halls were permitted to reopen. Guidelines for Unlock 5, which will kick in from October 1, are expected to be issued in the next two days by the government.

Sunil said that it was a “now or never” situation for the film exhibition industry, since the October-December period was an important quarter for the sector. “You typically have big releases between October and December. If cinema halls are allowed to reopen in October, we should be able to adjust to the new normal when the Diwali period kicks in by November,” he said.

Blockbusters such as Sooryavanshi, starring Akshay Kumar, Lal Singh Chaddha, starring Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan, and 83, featuring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, are looking at the December quarter for a likely release, industry sources said.

ALSO READ: Multiplex group appeals to govt to reopen cinemas, says jobs are at stake

Multiplex operators also hope that guidelines issued by the for reopening would address the critical issue of capacity permitted within movie halls. There was speculation that only 25 per cent of capacity would be permitted during reopening, which players say may not be enough. Analysts now say that the government may permit 50 per cent capacity in keeping with industry demand.

According to estimates, maintenance costs of movie halls could shoot up by around 20-25 per cent in the post-Covid world, though multiplexes could compensate for it by cutting headcount within properties as operations increasingly getting digitised to minimise contact. Occupancy levels, which before the Covid-19 crisis, stood at 35-36 per cent on an average for multiplexes, could settle at levels of around 25-30 per cent after the initial three to six months’ lapse following reopening.

Some of the measures that might be implemented once theatres reopen would be seat distancing, contactless service and rigorous hygiene from entry to exit. Movie-goers would be encouraged to pre-book their tickets and meals, wear masks when watching films and maintain strict lane discipline when entering and exiting movie halls. House-keeping will acquire disproportionate importance and staff will be checked from time-to-time to ensure they have no health issues.

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