Cinemas yet to see rise in footfall as filmgoers remain cautious
Film buffs are yet to flock to theatres despite the State government allowing single screens and multiplexes to operate on 100% seating capacity. On the first weekend after the relaxation of rules, ticket sales remained low.
But theatre owners, optimistic that a revival is around the corner, are awaiting a string of big releases, which they say will bring in the big crowds. The State government had, on February 3, permitted full occupancy for four weeks at the request of the Kannada film industry. This is the first time in over 10 months that theatres are functioning on full occupancy after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the revival of the cinema exhibition industry, relaxation of seating norms is a prerequisite,” said Alok Tandon, CEO of INOX Leisure Ltd. “This will ease apprehensions in the minds of content producers and studios, who may now announce the release dates of their movies.”
Single screens, especially, have welcomed the easing of rules. “We have over 800 seats, but were struggling to fill even 80 per show. It was difficult to pay our employees,” said V. Bharani, film representative at Mukunda theatre in Banaswadi.
But despite the relaxation of rules, cinema halls don’t expect a surge in crowds anytime soon. “People turn up in large numbers only if there is a big film,” said Mr. Bharani. “The Tamil film Master starring Vijay (released on January 13) fetched us good collections though we were allowed only 50% occupancy then,” he said.
The new normal
The government has warned that it will revoke the occupancy permission if COVID-19 cases increase because of protocol violations. But theatre owners have said they will ensure there are no violations.
Gautam Dutta, CEO of PVR Ltd., claimed it was safe to go to the cinemas. “In a cinema hall, you are much safer as everyone is actually looking at the screen and not talking to each other while wearing masks. Also, you are resting and breathing normally with fresh air being circulated every four or five minutes,” he said. He added that all of the SOPs laid down by the Union and State governments would be strictly adhered to.
However, those who usually go to theatres remain sceptical. Joseph Immanuel, a regular theatregoer, said cinemas must be stricter in the checking of masks. “I find many people taking their masks off once they enter the hall. With 100% occupancy, when people sit next to each other, it will be riskier,” he said.
Meenakshi A.C., meanwhile, is happy she can sit next to her husband in the cinema hall now. “I usually comment about the movie or ask him if I missed a line. It was difficult to do this with the alternate seating arrangement,” she said.
Ms. Meenakshi also wants to watch movies without wearing a mask and wants to collect ticket stubs again (most theatres have gone paperless). While these wishes might take longer to become a reality again, the permission for 100% occupancy is seen as a major sign of revival of the city’s cinema-going habits.