With the Tamil Nadu government, in an order on Saturday, issuing permissions for theatres in the state to reopen from Monday, theatre owners are optimistic about the revival of big screens.
Theatres, which were closed in April following the second wave of Covid-19, have been granted permission to operate with 50% capacity, provided all the staff members are vaccinated.
Silverscreen India spoke to theatre owners and members of the TN theatre owners’ association following the government order to understand the mood among exhibitors.
Hopeful of a revival
President of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners’ Association, Tiruppur Subramaniam, who is also the owner of the eight-screen stand-alone theatre Sree Shakthi Cinemas in Tiruppur, said, “There are about 40 Tamil films that are ready and awaiting release. As compared to the last time we closed and reopened, I feel this time, more people will come to theatres since most of them are vaccinated. Therefore, we expect a great reception for new releases.”
Srither S, joint secretary of Tamil Nadu Theatres Association, concurred. “We are confident that the conventional way of watching films will prevail once more,” he said.
Srither added that these new releases will start rolling out from Friday.
Box-offices open with films from other languages
As they wait for new Tamil films, TN theatre owners are resuming operations by screening films from other languages.
Subramaniam said that some theatres have already opened their box offices with recent releases such as Akshay Kumar-starrer Bell Bottom and Mortal Kombat. “We are expecting Tamil films to come out next week, and the line-up will take shape thereafter,” he added.
However, other theatre owners are choosing to wait a while before reopening their screens. Venkatesh, owner of Woodlands Cinemas, Chennai said that he is planning to open his premises only on Friday.
“It has been four months, so we need some time to get back up and running. The staff have to be vaccinated before they return to work. And we need to procure permission from producers to get films from the digital server. Also, we need time to advertise in newspapers and intimate the public about which films are running. However, I will be opening at least one screen by Friday,” said Venkatesh, who plans to screen Conjuring 3 and the Telugu film Sridevi Soda Center.
Rakesh Gowthaman of Vetri Cinemas in Chennai also plans to begin by screening Conjuring 3 on one screen on either Thursday or Friday. “Next week, we have Fast and Furious 9 and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and from September 3, we expect to return to full-fledged business.”
“Since there was no previous indication that theatres would be reopened this week, we only expect new Tamil films from September 10 (Ganesh Chaturthi),” Rakesh said. However, with the festival season coming up, more Tamil content should be on the way, he added.
As they gear up to resume operations, theatre owners are also taking pains to ensure a clean and safe environment for movie-watching.
Srither said that the standard operating procedures announced by the government will be followed by all theatres.
Subramaniam mentioned that all his staff members have been fully vaccinated (received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine) and said, “They wear badges saying, ‘I am vaccinated.’ We also offer free masks to patrons at the entrance and are keeping all areas sanitized. We are allocating 45 minutes between shows to clean the place.”
Rakesh also said that he will be doing a deep cleaning on his premises prior to reopening.
AGS Cinemas, which reopened on Monday with Bell Bottom, said in a press release that all staff on the premises have been vaccinated and the premises are regularly sanitised. The press release further added that COVID officers have been appointed to every floor to ensure the safety measures are followed.
No simultaneous theatre and OTT releases
Theatre owners remain firm in their stand against the same-day release of films on OTT platforms and big screens. “Before the lockdown, we had talks with producers about the window period between theatre and OTT release. However, we could not come to a conclusion. As of now, our stand is that there will be no simultaneous release in theatres and OTTs,” Rakesh said.
The Telangana State Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC), had requested producers to wait until October for theatres to reopen and advised them to opt for OTT releases only post that. Asked if a similar request was made in Tamil Nadu, Srither said, “We had requested that last year itself. We asked producers to wait for theatres to reopen and normalcy to return before choosing OTT platforms.”
However, several big Tamil films were released directly on OTT over the course of the past year.
Meanwhile, announcements of the theatrical release of new Tamil films have started coming out. The latest being Thalaivii, starring actor Kangana Ranaut as late politician J Jayalalithaa, which has been announced as a September 10 release.