Black Diwali for theatre owners; Maharashtra government extends lockdown till November 30

Updated: 31 October, 2020 07:15 IST | Uma Ramasubramanian | Mumbai

City exhibitors livid after state government extends cinema shutdown till Nov 30; the fate of upcoming films uncertain even as other states demand new releases.

on Thursday, the Maharashtra government extended the lockdown in the state till November 30 with no further relaxations. For exhibitors in the state who have lost crores of rupees in the eight months of theatre shutdown, the move spells doom as Diwali is the most profitable period for business. Manoj Desai, executive director of G7 multiplex in Bandra, says, "Our business shoots up during this period, but it's a black Diwali this year. [On paper], I have eight theatres standing, but in reality, we are broke."

Akshaye Rathi, who owns cinemas in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, notes that the exhibition and distribution sector had earned R250 crore last Diwali owing to the three festival releases — Housefull 4, Saand Ki Aankh and Made in China. As another bleak month awaits him this year, he has no option but to let go of his staff. Rathi indicates that the discrimination against movie halls is unfair as he asks, "Are cinemas the only place where the virus spreads? Everything else has reopened — be it metros, salons, and even trains."

Indoo Ki Jawani and Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari were eyeing a theatrical run
Indoo Ki Jawani and Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari were eyeing a theatrical run

With trade and filmmakers optimistic that the doors of cinemas would be thrown open from November 1, it was heard that Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari — besides its digital premiere — would hit screens over the Diwali weekend. Similarly, Kiara Advani's Indoo Ki Jawani was slated for a late November release. As the fate of these two films hangs in the balance, Rathi adds, "The trailer of Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari doesn't mention anything about the film releasing in cinemas. So, there is no [clarity]."

The decision is bound to spark a chain reaction across the country — with Maharashtra being the biggest market, other filmmakers are likely to hold off the release of their upcoming offerings, thus leaving theatre owners in other states devoid of new releases. Raj Kumar Mehrotra, CEO, Delite Cinemas, Delhi, that re-started its operations on October 16, says each show sees barely 10 per cent occupancy. "We are running in losses. Where the 50 per cent capacity translates to 490 seats in our cinema, we barely see 30 to 40 people per show. Over the weekend, the footfall increases to 15 per cent."

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Gurmeet Singh Seble of Seble Cinema, Delhi, urges the Multiplex Association of India to rethink its decision of not screening OTT films. "It will do wonders for us if we can screen Akshay Kumar's Laxmii. Nobody wants to watch past blockbusters. We need new films."

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First Published: 31 October, 2020 07:00 IST

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