Will COVID-19 kill theatre business?

The disastrous re-opening of movie theatres across the country has put a huge question mark on the future of movie theatres in India

Representative Image 
Representative Image

Subhash K Jha

The  disastrous re-opening  of  movie theatres  across the country has put a huge question mark on the future of movie theatres in India. Sources say  if the attendance remains as thin as it is, theatres may have to shut down again. To make  matters worse, theatres have no new content to show.

“Almost all the new films have gone to the digital  platform. And the digital platform  refuses  to share  content with us,” says a top personnel of a multiplex chain. “The  initial plan was to release OTT films Gulabo Sitabo, Gunjan Saxena, Dil Bechara and Khali Peeli. But the  OTT  platforms  have refused to share the content with us. So until Maharshtra  re-opens theatres, we are  left screening  releases  from the  pre-Covid  repertoire. No one is  coming to theatres  to watch Thappad and  Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” the  source rues, adding that their chain may have to shut again, until  audiences  feel confident enough to return.

Bengal which opened theatres a fortnight ahead of other states stares at empty seats as the State prepares to release 6 new Bengali films for Durga Puja.

Bengal’s top director Srijit Mukherjee admits the re-opening of theatres in Kolkata has been underwhelming. “I think it’s  the fear psychosis. The attendance at movie theatres won’t get better until a Covid vaccine comes out.”

Trade analyst Amod Mehra describes the reopening of theatres as  disastrous. “Until a big film is released , all movie exhibitors  will suffer unanimously.”

Maverick film producer  of  Applause Entertainment and media baron Sameer  Nair feels it’s only a  matter of time before audiences return to movie theatres. “The slow return to theatres is to be expected, a combination of lingering fears and  movie re-runs  reduce the audience draw. But I don’t think too much should be read into these initial numbers. Over the next few months, as everything gradually opens up, people will increasing return to their movie-going ways. The most important thing for theatres is simultaneous opening up nationwide and brand-new blockbuster product...to bring the audiences back and to rebuild a viable business model for producers and exhibitors alike.”

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