As states across the country continue to report a sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 cases, the restrictions being imposed on cinema halls have returned and theatre owners are bracing for uncertain times ahead.
The Tamil Nadu government is the latest to announce curbs, with the imposition of a Sunday lockdown and a night curfew (between 10 pm and 5 am) starting from Thursday, in addition to capping occupancy in theatres at 50%. With only emergency services being permitted, theatres would be shut down on Sunday. Film exhibitors in the state are now pinning their hope on the Ajith Kumar -starrer Valimai that is slated for release on January 14 after the release of other big-budget films such as RRR and Radhe Shyam were postponed due to the surging number of cases.
Other places with restrictions put in place include Delhi, where a yellow alert was declared and cinema halls, theatres and multiplexes were shut down and Haryana, where the government has ordered the closure of cinema halls in five districts- Ambala, Panchkula, Sonipat, Gurugram and Faridabad from January 2 to 12. Following the closure of cinema halls in Delhi, the makers of Shahid Kapoor‘s Jersey also postponed the film’s release.
The Karnataka government also recently imposed a weekend curfew from Friday 10 pm to Monday 5 am and a night curfew (10 pm to 5 am) until January 19. During the curfew, theatres in the state will be allowed to operate at 50% occupancy. In December 2021, after one Omicron case was reported in the state, the Karnataka government announced that only fully vaccinated people will be permitted to enter the theatres.
Detailing the impact of the weekend and night curfew on the business, KV Chandrashekar, president of, Karnataka Film Exhibitors Association, said “On the weekends, which is usually a very busy time, there will be no shows due to the complete lockdown that has been imposed. Due to the night curfew from Monday to Thursday, starting from 10 pm, we will not be able to run the late-night shows also.”
Chandrashekar said that out of the 950 theatres in Karnataka, which includes single screens and multiplexes, nearly 130 single-screen theatres have been forced to shut down since December 2020, despite getting their licences renewed.
“Apart from the one-year property tax rebate for single screens which the government announced after much persuasion, we have not received any support. The lockdown is imposed by the government so they should not be collecting minimum charges on electricity and water. We have raised this concern as well. The government has assured it will consider the demands but so far no decision has been made,” he added.
The West Bengal government has also restricted occupancy in theatres to 50 % and declared that theatres can function only till 10 pm. This restriction will be in force till January 15. The 27th Kolkata International Film Festival, earlier scheduled to be held between January 7 and 14, has been cancelled amid the rising COVID cases in the state.
In conversation with Silverscreen India, Satadeep Saha, one of the theatre owners in West Bengal said, “Earlier the theatres were functioning with 70% occupancy. But from last week we have been restricted to operate only with 50% seating capacity. Around 200 theatres including single screens and multiplex are there in the state. Some of the theatres have already shut down due to lack of content and other restrictions. Postponement of film releases is another reason that is affecting the theatres. Currently, only Pushpa, Spiderman and a Bengali film Tonic are being screened. We are unsure of releases in the upcoming months with such strict curbs.”
After the Delhi government announced its plan to shut theatres in the state, Kamal Gianchandani, President of the Multiplex Association of India (MAI), appealed to the Delhi government to reconsider the decision as it could lead to “irreparable damage.”
“After being allowed to reopen, cinemas have already demonstrated an ability to operate safely for the public and employees via usage of enhanced ventilation systems, enhanced hygiene, and other safety protocols. Not a single outbreak of Covid-19 anywhere around the world has been traced to a cinema,” the association’s statement read.
Cinema halls in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are the exceptions, currently operating at full occupancy. However, the theatre industry in AP has been reeling under another crisis due to the capping of ticket prices and raids. Approximately 170 theatres in AP have already closed their shutters because of losses incurred from the low ticket prices and raids. In a recent move, the government has granted permission to reopen the theatres that were seized and shut down when quality check raids were conducted by state officials.
In Kerala, a four-day restriction was put in place on the screening of the late-night show between December 30 and January 2. The exhibitors have resumed the second shows from January 3 onwards. The theatres in the state have been functioning at only 50% seating capacity since its reopening on October 25. According to film exhibitors in Kerala, there is little chance of increasing the seating capacity to 100 % anytime soon due to the spread of Omicron. So they hope to continue running the theatres adhering to the prevailing SOP for some more time without any hindrance. Likewise, cinema halls in Mumbai are also operating at 50% capacity.
On Thursday, India reported 90,928 fresh Covid-19 cases and 325 deaths, taking the total number of active cases to 2,85,401.