Cinemas are Back! Maharashtra Theatres Reopen, Building Big Hopes for Bollywood Box Office

The film industry had been waiting with bated breath for the government to allow theatres to reopen in Maharashtra. A bunch of big films, including Sooryavanshi and ’83, have been awaiting release since early 2020, ever since the first Covid-induced lockdown. Uncertainty loomed over their premiere dates because many filmmakers did not want to run the risk of releasing a film without including a major market like Maharashtra. Now that the cinemas have reopened from October 22, there’s an air of positivity all around, with tent-poles lining up for release.

CINEMAS ARE BACK

Trade experts are optimistic about the audience coming back to the theatres and business picking up, with Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi as the first big release on Diwali. Film trade analyst Taran Adarsh says, “Film releases are announced on the basis of Maharashtra as it contributes to 35-40% of the revenue of a Hindi movie. So obviously, producers did not announce their films because Maharashtra theatres were not open. But now that the government has given the green signal and from the 22nd onwards cinemas are reopening, I think it’s a very positive time. People will definitely come to cinemas in good numbers with Sooryavanshi and other big films releasing.”

It won’t be business as usual right away, as there is a 50% cap on occupancy. “There will be deterrents initially, but I am sure the big films will do their magic in attracting viewers. It’s a question of one big hit, and there will be a turnaround. It could very well be Sooryavanshi on Diwali,” Adarsh adds.

ONLY BIG MOVIES CAN BRING BACK AUDIENCES TO THEATRES

Trade analyst Atul Mohan is of the opinion that while the theatres reopening is a positive sign, you need a big budget film to make the audience move out of the comfort of their homes. “Maharashtra government allowing cinemas to open up is a sigh of relief for all the producers holding back on their releases. It might be a little difficult for smaller films to garner audiences, but the big releases will surely see a larger footfall. We have an impressive lineup of films. Sooryavanshi would be the real test for everybody – how the audience comes back to the cinema halls. I believe only big movies can draw the audience to the halls right now,” he says.

While Hollywood films have kept the business afloat in states where cinemas had reopened earlier, the big difference in movie business can only be made by a Bollywood blockbuster. “India is known for Hindi movies. And once the Hindi movies start coming in on Diwali, starting with Sooryavanshi and so on, I’m very optimistic that people will come back to the cinemas and we can go back to our pre-pandemic admissions. We have a line-up of big films from Diwali to June-July next year. And it’s very well spaced out. We want the big films to come and for the audience’s to return to theatres,” says Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, Joint Managing Director, PVR Ltd.

SIGH OF RELIEF FOR EXHIBITORS

Maharashtra cinemas reopening is a sigh of relief of cinema exhibitors, too, who are looking forward to blockbuster weekends. They are ensuring all SOPs are followed in order to ensure a safe viewing experience for the audience. Alok Tandon, CEO – INOX Leisure Ltd, says, “We are completely geared up and prepared to ensure the safety of our guests and employees. This decision has steered in a lot of cheerfulness, not just for the entire film industry and its audiences, but also for the employees of the cinema exhibition sector, and their families, who have been waiting for this to happen.”

“We are also confident that with this much-awaited announcement, content producers would also plan their releases, which should strengthen the Hindi film content pipeline in the months to come and usher in better health for the cinema exhibition industry. With the hugely successful vaccination program and significantly low COVID-19 cases, we are optimistic that people will return to cinemas as before,” he adds.

Ashish Saksena, COO – Cinemas, BookMyShow, is also confident that Diwali will be a game-changer for the movie business. “The state’s announcement of cinemas opening up was followed almost immediately by all leading, major studios and production houses announcing release dates for key, big-budget Hindi, regional and Hollywood films, locking up a compelling movie calendar until July 2022. The early signs have been quite encouraging with many Hollywood movies that earlier missed out on the state, finally releasing here, including No Time To Die, Venom and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. We are confident that Diwali will set the stage for a long-awaited revival of the cinema business in India,” Saksena elaborates.

WHAT HAPPENS TO OTT vs THEATRE?

Now that theatres are back in business, will that affect film releases on digital platforms? Atul Mohan says, “Producers now have the choice to go either way, and they have all the rights to, because someone who is putting in his money has the right to choose the medium where he can make profits. The OTT platforms are going to try to lure the producers with profitable deals to release their movies on their platform. It will depend on the producers and the actors, which way they want to go.”

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