After seven months of total shutdown (due to Covid-19 pandemic), the Ministry of Home Affairs has given the green signal to reopen theatres (though many states such as Maharashtra are yet to join the bandwagon). Since then, the focus has been on the much-in-demand Diwali weekend, especially after Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi was moved from the lucrative festive date.
As of now, only Manoj Bajpayee-Diljit Dosanjh starrer Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari (SPMB) has been announced as the Diwali release. Before that, Ishaan Khatter-Ananya Panday starrer Khaali Peeli, which earlier took the pay-per-view route, will hit the big screen on Friday (October 16). Plus, from this weekend onwards, Hollywood films such as My Spy, Force of Nature and The Rental will also start running in theatres. Also, past releases such as Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan, Malang, Thappad, Kedarrnath and War are set to have a stint with 70mm screen again.
But the big question is: will audiences turn up at cinemas amid the pandemic? "People still have a lot of fear of Covid-19. So, they might go to theatres or may give it a miss. But, it's imperative for cinemas to reopen as so many livelihoods are at stake. It's also true that audiences may not be enthusiastic about 'smaller films' but it's high time theatres reopen, like other businesses," says trade analyst Taran Adarsh.
Insiders feel "smaller movies" coming out on Diwali "may have an added advantage" too. As exhibitor-distribitor Akshaye Rathi puts it: "It's true that during a pandemic, people may not turn up in big numbers to watch mid-budget films but at the same time, such films may even fly due to pent-up demand. So, you never know."
Even before earning a single penny, theatre owners are compelled to spend money from their own pockets on account of following all the safety guidelines suggested by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As per an estimate, it's going to cost anything between Rs three to five lakh per month. But exhibitors/theatre owners are "ready to make the investment."
"We are mentally prepared that in the first couple of weeks, a month or even a couple of months, there may not be much revenues. So, we might have to make investments, with no returns. What's most important is that we need to reintroduce and help inculcate the 'theatre habit' in people again," says Rathi, adding: "Till the time you don't open the shop, how will you know whether there's a demand for your product or not?"
Filmmakers, on their part, are keen to "see theatres up and running again." "As a film aficionado, who loves to watch movies on the big screen, as well as an artist, I am personally very excited (to have my film out in theatres). I feel people are fed up of constantly sitting at home," says SPMB director, Abhishek Sharma, adding: "Plus, the movie exhibition sector, more than any other business, has suffered maximum losses over the past seven months. So, I'm happy that my film will, in a way, kick off the 'theatre culture' again."
Besides SPMB, other films such as Ranveer Singh's Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Kiara Advani-starrer Indoo Ki Jawani, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's production, Tuesdays and Fridays, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, featuring Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra, and Saif Ali Khan-Rani Mukerji starrer Bunty Aur Babli 2, which didn't take the digital route, may also open in theatres now. Insiders feel "fresh content may be a much bigger draw for audiences" than a film that has already been on an OTT platform.
"I feel the real test will be when big-ticket films such as Sooryavanshi and '83 hit the big screens. Then, we will know where things are, and whether audiences are lapping up movies again or not," concludes Adarsh.