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Vijay’s ‘Master’ Releases, Raises Concern of Covid-19 Protocol Violations

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Master, starring Vijay, released on Wednesday to packed theatres as well as concerns over violations of Covid-19 safety regulations. This is the first major film release since theatres reopened, after a long hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Soon after the first show began , videos of dancing fans celebrating inside the premises and the auditorium of several theatres began circulating on social media. Many were seen without masks and without following social distance guidelines.

Speaking to Silverscreen India, Rajesh (name changed), a film enthusiast who went to Rohini Theatre in Chennai to watch Master at 4 am on Wednesday, said that no social distancing had been followed there. “As a movie-watching first day first show experience, it was fun. It was great to get back to theatres after 10 months. Being a theatre lover, it felt great. But, talking about the Covid-19 scenario, it was definitely risky,” he said.

“There was no checking at all. No temperature check or mask check. Anyone and everyone was allowed inside,” he added.

Violations were witnessed even after the film’s director Lokesh Kanagaraj, who had gone to Rohini Theatres on Wednesday morning to watch the film, spoke to the press outside and requested fans to maintain social distance.

Ruban Mathivanan, managing partner of GK Cinemas in Chennai, told Silverscreen India that the guidelines issued by the government had been followed. “We had bouncers to ensure that only those with tickets are allowed inside,” he said.

100% Occupancy in Theatres:

However, reports suggested that many theatres operated with 100% seat occupancy while screening Master. Rajesh said, “There was a crowd everywhere. The Central government had ordered theatres to function with 50% occupancy. But, the majority of the theatres in Tamil Nadu operated with 100 percent occupancy for the first few shows.”

Sharing a video from the first day first show screening of Master in Sri Brindha Theatre, Moolakadai, Twitter user Vinodkumar Surabhi expressed his disappointment over the 100% seat occupancy that was followed there. Speaking to Silverscreen India, he said, “While stepping inside the theatre entrance, cops were checking for the audiences’ masks. They checked the temperatures of the audiences and had everyone’s hands sanitised.” However, he also added that no social distancing was followed inside the theatre auditorium.

He said that even with over 10 to 12 police standing inside the theatre, the screening functioned with 100% seat occupancy. According to Vinodkumar, the 100% seat occupancy was not a surprise to him since the tickets he had purchased was in a sequential order.

Both Rohini and Kasi Theatres opened with 100% occupancy. According to a report from Dt Next, the MGR Nagar police booked the owners of Kasi Theatre after incriminating images from the premises were leaked on social media.

The owners were booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease danger­ous to life), and fined ₹5,000 for allowing more than 50 percent occupancy for the movie.

Police also took action against a theatre in T Nagar for not following the 50% seating capacity norms.

Last week, the Tamil Nadu government had passed an order to allow theatres in the State to function with 100% seating capacity, up from the earlier 50% occupancy. Soon after, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to the Tamil Nadu chief secretary, asking the state government to withdraw its previous order since it was a dilution of the MHA’s guidelines.

The Madras High Court too had asked the state government to not permit more than 50% occupancy in theatres. On Friday, the state government withdrew its previous order.

Theatres were, however, given permission to run additional shows.

Speaking with Silverscreen India, President of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners’ Association, Tirupur Subramaniam said that social distancing had been maintained in Sakthi Cinemas, the theatre he owns in Tirupur. “We have maintained social distance, and the audience has been willing to purchase two tickets so that they could sit in one seat and leave the other one empty. They themselves have been saying that safety is important,” he said.

He added that those who could not voluntarily purchase two tickets had been separately accommodated.

Violation of protocol during ticket booking:

Theatres including Rohini Theatres, Ganga Theatre in Kolathur and Ram Cinemas in Tirunelveli were packed last week with viewers swarming to book tickets.

According to The News Minute, the authorities of Rohini Theatre had to call the police as soon as a crowd formed. Nikilesh Surya from Rohini Theatres was quoted as saying, “We couldn’t handle them with the limited staff. We also closed bookings at the counter and have now completely moved bookings online. We only gave out tickets to those already waiting.”

Master is directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj. Along with Vijay, the film stars Vijay Sethupathi as the antagonist and also features Malavika Mohanan, Arjun Das, Andrea Jeremiah, and Shanthanu Bhagyaraj. The film is produced by XB Film Creators and Seven Screen Studios.

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