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Exhibitors, distributors urge govt to allow cinema halls to reopen, start #SupportMovieTheatres initiative

The initiative has been supported by prominent names from the film fraternity like Boney Kapoor, Anubhav Sinha, Karthik Subbaraj, Shobu Yarlagadda, Vishnu Manchu and Abhimanyu Dassani.

Keyur Seta

The government of India recently issued guidelines for the fourth phase of unlocking the country ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and a rigorous lockdown for over two months starting in the last week of March. Under the so-called 'unlock 4.0', a few more businesses will be allowed to reopen. However, there is still no indication of when cinema halls, shut since mid-March, will be allowed to reopen.

This hasn’t gone down well with theatre owners and exhibitors whose businesses have been badly hit for more than five months and are staring at huge losses.

To urge the government to think about allowing cinema halls to reopen, the industry has now started an initiative called #SupportMovieTheatres.

Distributor and exhibitor Sunny Chandiramani of Sunshine Studios told Cinestaan.com, “The hashtag was started by Rishabh Jalan, a cinema owner in Guwahati [in Assam]. We brought all exhibitors and multiplex chains together for this initiative. We are appealing to the government to consider reopening [of cinema halls] in unlock 4.0 itself. Now everyone is exhausted.”

The initiative has been supported by prominent names from the film industry like producers Boney Kapoor and Shobu Yarlagadda, directors Anubhav Sinha and Karthik Subbaraj, and actors Vishnu Manchu and Abhimanyu Dassani.

While theatres have not earned a rupee in the past nearly six months, they continue to have to pay rent, electricity and water charges, property tax and some other bills. "There is no support or package from the government to cinemas," Chandiramani said. "The corporate world isn’t openly saying it, but they have stopped the salaries of all their employees.”

He said a majority of multiplex chains were ready to open with 25% or 30% occupancy for a month or 45 days, hoping that they would get permission to reopen and eventually occupancy would be raised to 50%. “But somehow this communication didn’t reach the government," he said. "We were hoping for [50% occupancy for] the release of [the Hollywood] film Tenet (2020). Our hopes now lie with Sooryavanshi and 83.”

He said a lot hinges for the industry now on these two big-budget multi-starrer films and theatres need to be allowed to reopen with more occupancy. “We need 70–80% occupancy. Only then can a film like Sooryavanshi be released. If we get permission in 'unlock 5.0', then Reliance will not wait till then [to release Sooryavanshi]. If that film goes directly to an OTT platform, we will be left with no big film,” he lamented.

Exhibitors had high hopes from a commercial caper like Coolie No 1 (2020), David Dhawan’s remake of his own film of the same name released in 1995. “But [producer] Vashu Bhagnani decided to release it on Amazon Prime Video. Laal Singh Chadha was going to be released in December, but that film is also not releasing [this year]. So, it is important for us to save Sooryavanshi and 83 for cinemas. If we open cinema halls in 'unlock 4.0', the situation will be better for theatres in 'unlock 5.0',” Chandiramani said.

Shibashish Sarkar, chief executive officer of Reliance Entertainment, also showed support for the cause by tweeting, "Salary Subsidy Scheme in UK, CARES Act 2020 in US, Canada Emergency Wage Service in Canada, govt supported to protect jobs. In India thousands & millions have lost jobs or [suffered] pay cuts with no income of cinema hall owners. Halls are now closed for 6 months."

Satadeep Saha, an exhibitor in Kolkata, posted an emotional appeal in the form of a video on Facebook urging the government to allow theatres to reopen. “Our situation is such that we don’t know whether we will live or die," he said. "I am requesting with folded hands to please reopen cinema halls. We can’t bear it any more. You have resumed so many businesses. What problem do you think will happen in cinema halls? Do you think people will be infected with the coronavirus only in cinema halls?”

The Multiplex Association of India also posted a few tweets urging the government to move quickly on the issue. “Most countries across the world have allowed cinemas to operate," the industry group said. "We request the government of India to allow us to operate as well. We are committed to offering a safe and hygienic cinema experience. If aviation, metro, malls, wellness and restaurants can be allowed to operate, the cinema industry too deserves a chance.”

Only last week, Manoj Desai, executive director of the famed G7 multiplex (better known as Gaiety-Galaxy) and the iconic Maratha Mandir cinema hall in Mumbai, had told Cinestaan.com, “We have somehow managed till now. But it has become too much to bear. The government should take a decision on it soon. They should give some notification for us to resume.” 

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