Telangana theatres reopened on Friday to a lukewarm response from movie-goers, post the three-month shutdown due to the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. However, theatre owners remain optimistic about the revival of their fortunes and are pinning their hopes on the upcoming big Telugu releases.

Satya Dev-starrer Thimmarusu and Ishq, starring Teja Sajja and Priya Prakash Varrier, were among the films released on Friday as part of the first lot of new releases to hit theatres after the second wave of Covid-19.

According to Anupam Reddy, executive committee member of the Telangana State Film Chamber of Commerce, about 50% of theatres have opened in the state.

Speaking to Silverscreen India, he says, “Some of the films released on Friday have familiar faces which will pull in some crowd. But there are theatre owners who will not take the risk of exhibiting films until the big-starrer crowd-puller releases are ready.”

Reddy himself plans to open his Sudha Theatres on August 6. He says this is because the local festival Bonallu that falls on Sunday will likely keep moviegoers away from theatres this weekend.

A slow start

Akshita Reddy’s Ranga 70mm single screen theatre in Hyderabad, which she operates with her father Gopal Reddy, ran both Thimmarusu and Ishq on an alternate basis for four shows. The theatre opened on Friday for the first time since April 23.

“The response was a little slow on the first day. We had about 40-50 people show up for the first show which increased to 75-100 for the matinee. When we opened for Solo Brathuke So Better in December 2020 at 50% capacity, theatres were packed. But today, even with full capacity permitted, we have far fewer tickets being sold,” she observes.

Ashok Yadav, who runs Gokul Theatres in Hyderabad, concurs. “The response is below average and not so enthusiastic. We have four shows scheduled and I am running only Ishq,” he says.

However, Balgovind Raj Tadla, partner at Sudharshan 35mm and Devi 70mm single-screen theatres in Hyderabad, has a more positive outlook. “It is an encouraging start with the content we got,” he said. “With familiar faces, we had about 35-40% tickets sold. We expect a steady increase in the coming days.”

While it began as a slow day for theatres, what comes as a huge relief for the owners is the permission to collect parking fees again. On July 20, the state government passed an order permitting standalone cinema theatres to collect parking fees on their premises. Yadav calls this an “additional advantage” that makes business more viable.

Covid-19 precautionary measures

The theatre owners have all gone the extra mile to ensure that Covid-19 protocols are maintained in the cinema halls.

Speaking about the initiatives she took, Akshita Reddy shares, “Apart from cleaning the premises after every show, we introduced a contactless food ordering system that is common in multiplexes, where a QR code is generated for each seat and a website displays the menu. Along with the ability to use online payment methods, customers can choose whether they want their order delivered to their seats during the intermission or pick it up from designated counters.”

Tadla says, besides thermal scanning of the audience on entry and regular seat cleansing, they are also sanitising cash before exchange at their counters.

Pinning hopes on upcoming big releases

The theatre owners all expect better turnouts once the bigger releases starring well-known actors arrive. “We are positive that theatres will revive in the coming months with the big releases,” says Yadav.

“Several major films that were scheduled for release over the last year are yet to announce their release dates. But producers don’t want to hold them any longer, so they should be out soon. And when that happens, we expect to see good runs in theatres. For example, Rajamouli is determined to release his film in October. I think others also prefer theatre releases. There is lot of good content coming up with films like Love Story, Tuck Jagadish, and RRR,” observes Akshita Reddy.

“For films like Love Story and Tuck Jagadish, producers are bound to be very careful. They will want to gauge how theatres perform and look at the situation with the third wave before releasing in theatres,” says Tadla.

However, as people gradually return to theatres, he believes word of mouth will encourage others and in turn strengthen the visitor count.