Multiplex chains across India is set to see a major development as after almost a six-month-long hiatus, movies halls have started their road to recovery. After news of Cinemas re-opening came earlier in October, the Standard Operating Procedure by the Government of India was unveiled earlier this week.
In India, where the Indian Film Industry is considered as sentiment and Indian films are considred one of the major entertainment outlets for the Indian diaspora, the move is certainly welcoming. International Business Times, India, got in touch with multiplex owners, trade pundits and health experts to share their opinion on the same.
What Multiplex Owners Have to Say
The movie halls, which were shut down in March, were among the first ones to stop operations and now are among the last ones to resume. Distraught members of the film industry, including multiplex owners, Indian actors and directors had appealed to the government to resume the operations since a few months. A #UnlockCinemaSaveJob was also trended on twitter and carried in various publications as an advertisement.
Organisations such as Multiplex Association of India (MAI), Producers Guild of India (GUILD) and the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA) cited financial struggle of the past six months. While film production was permitted towards the end of August, permission to exhibit the same is being seen as a bold move.
INOX Leisure Limited
Talking about the expected footfall, an official spokesperson at INOX Leisure Limited said, "It's going to pick up gradually, due to the ambiguity among the audience. Cinema, being a sentiment for the Indian audience, we are just a couple of blockbusters away from normalcy."
Talking about content, the multiplex chains are depending on Library content for the initial days and are hoping for the Diwali phase to be the game-changer. "The concern is only for the immediate number of days. There are various projects which are either ready or in their post-production, which will resume as Diwali resumes, which is approximately 30 days from now. For now, we are taking reference from other countries, and rely on library content," he said.
INOX Leisure Limited will also introduce the concept of private screening- which shall be made available to small groups of friends, family and corporates who want to avoid the crowd and enjoy a movie in a theatre experience.
"It has worked well in other markets and we are sure it will work here too. We can also add some value addition by putting a welcome message on the screen, etc. This service is available in all the 147 multiplexes and anyone can avail it. If it's a 100 seater Audi, and a group of 15 people, we won't charge them for 100 seats but also not for the 15," the spokesperson said adding the price of these premium services are being worked on.
Chief Growth Development Growth Officer, Pramod Arora echoed a similar sentiment and said, "Let's get the conscience building for the next 15 days We are not expecting a huge euphoria or huge frenzy around cinemas."
Among the 28 states, 11 states have given permission to open from October 15. Cinema exhibitors are expecting 11 more to give allowance by the 15th of October, barring the 6-7 states which may continue being shut until October 31, 2020.
"Word of mouth will be the strongest form to carry it forward. Only experiencing it will make a difference. We may find people above the age of 70 and below 5 refraining coming but otherwise, the showtime will be regular and the show must go on."
While the threat of the Covid-19 still remains, authorities are hopeful that people have become more aware and will follow the necessary precautions to let Cinema viewing be a exciting experience once again.
Arora feels, "Consumers have evolved a lot after going for this for the last six months. They will be more socially aware of distancing norms. People are socially aware and they take the higher pedestal once you show them the way. That explains why people won't spit in a 5-star hotel. They are also taking additional measures, in addition to what we are providing and we are hopeful this combination will work well. We are looking at sanitizing public spaces within the cinemas, including once during the show itself."
He added, "Somewhere, it is our responsibility if someone is not wearing a mask, to ensure and make him aware that his doing can potentially be harmful to him as well as people around him. This is more of a social responsibility and we are all a part of that."
What Trade Analysts Have to Say
Trade Pundit called it a sigh of a breather as the 'stuck wheel' will finally start moving. "We still await a lot of permission from the different state governments. By Diwali, we hopefully should be ready pan India," he said.
Johar says the opening of multiplexes is connected with the resuming of wider economical activities as well. "Cinema may not the important aspect but a critical one in the purview of the Indian economy because it has various other related activities involved. It's an anchor activity where you go out for dinner, go shopping, etc."
He further said that the first few 4-5 six weeks will be ambiguous and thus no big Diwali releases have been announced. "Once people gobble up the strength to watch a movie, the film also needs to be big. It will take around 6 months to get back to normal," he added.
What Health Experts Have to Say
The reopening of Cinema also increases the threat of exposure of the Covid-19 and might spike the possibility of number of cases. However, health experts say the threat is here to stay and people need to come together as one in such testing times.
"Obviously, it is a big risk but we have to open things up at some point stage by stage. The SOP's have been formed in certain areas where the spread is under control, which will help. We cannot be kept closed for a lifetime and this virus is going to stay for some time. People have to adjust to these new norms such as psychical distancing, wearing of masks and hand and mask hygiene. They have to be followed irrespective of being in a Cinema hall. But this increased risk can be anywhere, like at your workplace which are air-conditioned and there is no open ventilation," said Dr. Viny Kantroo, Consultant in Respiratory Critical Care with Apollo Hospital, Delhi.
Suggesting means of precautions, she added, "What we can do is, support each other. If someone is suffering from the virus or has symptoms like fever, body ache, runny nose, they should not venture out to crowded places like cinema halls. Those who have elders at home, and risk of catching virus for them and their family members, they must refrain from stepping out too."