As several theatres across the country have been forced to close again amid the raging second wave of Covid-19, theatre owners say the only way to minimise losses is to keep their cinema halls shut till June.
India’s daily Covid-19 cases hit a new high on Thursday with 3,79,257 fresh cases and 3,645 deaths reported in 24 hours. With several state governments implementing weekend curfews and lockdowns, theatre owners feel that the situation will gradually return to normal from June and also hope for new releases.
Last week, the Kerala government ordered theatres and malls in the state to close by 7:30 pm and imposed night curfew from 9 pm to 5 am for two weeks. However, according to Suresh Shenoy, the owner of Shenoys Theatre in Kochi, most theatres in the state were already closed due to safety purposes and lack of new releases.
“We have been open for just three months and that was not enough to cover the expenses of even these three months, let alone the losses of last year. We were working on 50% seating capacity, it was just enough to sustain ourselves. Things were looking up. If not for this lockdown, by the second week of May our theatres would have been in a good position.”
“It is better to open up by June-end, take a risk and play whatever film than to keep theatres closed and increase losses,” he said.
In Telangana, night shows have been stopped as the state government enforced night curfew from April 20. However, theatre owners and film distributors in the state decided to shut down theatres due to the “lack of content”. This came in the wake of several Telugu films’ releases getting postponed due to surging cases of Covid-19.
Balagovind Raj, secretary of the Exhibitors Association in Hyderabad and owner of Sudarshan 35MM and Devi 70MM theatres, said that the situation will return to normal as more people get vaccinated.
“We have seen good times in the last three months. Theatres cannot run if films are not being shot. Although the government has not restricted shootings, people are scared,” he said.
According to Raj, government aid can revive the lull in their business.
“The government is yet to reduce minimum electricity charges,” he said.
Although 20 theatres are still running shows in Hyderabad, they might close from Friday, Raj said. Both his single screens are screening Vakeel Saab.
The situation in West Bengal, though, is grim.
Arijit Dutta, the owner of Priya Cinema and Bioscope chain of cinemas in West Bengal, said that he will not take the risk of keeping theatres open. “Only when some big film announces their release date, we will open a week before that,” Dutta said.
For Sunit Singh, owner of Paradise Cinema in Kolkata, opening his theatre in 2020 was difficult due to heavy expenses and lack of good releases. “There is no point in opening up theatres for one or two good films. The staff needs to be paid monthly, electricity charges will increase and with only 10-15% audience turnout, it is not at all feasible.”
Similarly in Coimbatore, Royal Theatre owner G Rathnavel also did not open his theatre’s shutters since the lockdown in 2020. “The losses are huge, but it is better to keep it shut and reduce it than to open it up and increase it due to no films,” he said.
Currently, theatres in New Delhi have been operating with 30-50% capacity while in Maharastra, they have been completely shut due to a huge rise in Covid-19 numbers. The Karnataka government also announced a complete lockdown earlier this week.