After remaining closed for nearly eight months, cinema halls and multiplexes across Tamil Nadu reopened their doors on November 10. This time around, movies released sans banners, crackers, or a huge crowd waiting for ticketing counters to open. Even without the usual fanfare, business has been brisk, said theatre owners.
“Theatres have been performing better than we expected. We thought people will have some fear and may not be willing to come and watch movies but all the prime shows on the weekend were almost full,” said Rakesh Gowthaman, managing director of Vettri Theatres.
“The performance was really good after the re-opening and more than what we expected,” said Ruban Mathivanan, managing partner of GK Cinemas in Chennai. “We feared there will be only around 20-25% occupancy but we had house full shows (50% capacity, as per Central government norms) on both the release days and the next day,” he said.
However, there is a shortage of good content, theatre owners said.
“The two films which have released now, if word of mouth had been better, then the occupancy on weekdays would also be sufficiently good. But what we see is a very positive sign that theatres are standing strong even with Covid-19. As things get better, cases reduce and we get the vaccine, theatres will have to chance to come back to 100% occupancy and it’ll be the same as pre-Covid times,” Gowthaman said.
As content gets better, the crowds will get better, said Mathivanan.
“After the first two days, there was a decline due to the average content and review, but once we have good films, I feel people will definitely come back to the theatres. If you compare the content we have now, the occupancy now versus pre-Covid level is pretty much the same on weekdays,” he said.
However, theatres in smaller cities don’t seem to be performing as well as the ones in Chennai. G Rathnavel, owner of Royal Theatre in Coimbatore, said: “The occupancy is very less now, but we can say it has not changed much from last year. The percentage of occupancy on weekdays versus on the weekends is more or less the same as it used to be before the pandemic. But Covid-19 is not the only reason why the audience is less. It is also because of a lack of big pictures. But it will slowly pick up. When the new pictures start rolling in regularly to the theatres, then I am sure the occupancy rates will get better.”
In Mumbai too, there’s a similar situation due to a lack of content. A report in The Times of India mentioned that the night shows of Diljit Dosanjh-starrer Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari were cancelled in Mumbai’s Gaiety and Maratha Mandir cinema halls due to poor turnout.
Responding to this, Ruban said, “What we can understand from the collections is if there is good content, people will come no matter what. In Hindi, they have Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari which is a very average content and the market is very big there compared to us. Thus, they may be facing issues with bringing crowds back to the theatres. Pongal will be very good for us, that’s for sure.”
Gowthaman is hopeful of the Centre increasing the 50% occupancy protocol next year. “From now till Pongal, the performance should get better, and hopefully, the government will increase occupancy from 50% to at least 70%. After April, it may even go up to 100% occupancy if it is proportionally connected with the number of cases.”
Theatre biz faring well more than expected. Though we follow all the safety norms, I appreciate the customers who have the faith in us 🙏🏽
Families turning up on Day1 itself was quite a sweet surprise 🥰 pic.twitter.com/Z3BXwZeU6U
— Rakesh Gowthaman (@VettriTheatres) November 15, 2020
Vettri Theatres, which is screening four shows a day, is doing nothing different to attract crowds, said Gowthaman. “Other than following the SOP mandated by the government, we aren’t doing anything different. Beyond that, we don’t want to do anything else which might scare the audience. We are following every norm to keep the audience safe, so that they can have an enjoyable experience. All our old products at the food counter are also available. The audience should come for a movie and forget about Covid-19, that is our goal,” he said.