Shutdowns in some states, restricted capacity in most markets and deferred releases are the concerns the cinema exhibition sector is dealing with because of rising COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.
Credit rating agency ICRA recently said the recovery that the multiplex sector was looking for will get delayed to Q1FY23.
Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure, said audience numbers the sector expected in January have been pushed back by a month or two.
“Had it not been for Delhi and Haryana closure, we would have had a tremendous line-up for January and box office numbers would have skyrocketed. I think it is not the sentiment but the government restriction why people have stopped coming,” Tandon told Moneycontrol.
He added that even producers are waiting for an end to restrictions and are ready to defer movie releases until restrictions, including night curfews and weekend closures, are lifted.
There were a series of announcements of postponing release dates of upcoming films when Delhi announced the closure of cinema halls, followed by Haryana which has shut down theatres in some parts of the state. Producers of big movie titles including RRR and Prithviraj, which were to hit the screens in January, have pushed back the release dates.
Currently, 572 out of the 667 screens that INOX operates are functioning at 50 percent or less capacity and 48 are shut due to restrictions. Only 47 screens of INOX are operating at 100 percent capacity.
Nine states—Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—allowed theatres to operate at 100 percent capacity in the second phase of reopening in 2021. But since then in the wake of the outbreak of the Omicron variant, theatres in six of these markets are back to 50 percent seating capacity and in one market cinemas are closed.
Film trade analysts say that January will be a washout and according to exhibitors, the first two months of 2022 will be muted.
Film producer and trade business analyst Girish Johar had estimated Indian films to earn Rs 1,500-2,000 crore during the first three months of this year. However, the concerns over the third coronavirus wave has dampened hopes of strong collections at the box office.
But Tandon expects things to get back to normal soon. “I see a blip over here. By mid-February to early March, everything will be up and running. There could be Hindi movies that could get announced in February. It is a matter of time before we bounce back like we did in December,” he said.
He added that across languages the industry did business of Rs 1,000 crore in December alone, which is as good as any month in the pre-pandemic era.
“The third quarter was reminiscent of pre-COVID times. Spider-Man: No Way Home, Sooryavanshi, 83, Pushpa gave strong performances. Some things we had forgotten in the COVID times like talk of Rs 100-, Rs 200-crore club restarted. Five movies entered the Rs 100-crore club and two movies entered the Rs 200-crore club. These conversations had not happened in the last 18 months,” added Tandon.
He expects the movies lined up for the coming months to see strong success. Along with deferred releases like Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey and Telugu period film RRR, which are expected to release in March, there is Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Shamshera, Kartik Aaryan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Ayushmann Khurrana’s Anek that will hit theatres that month. Plus, Hollywood has six movies, including The Batman lined up, apart from 34 films in Indian languages other than Hindi.
Betting big on the upcoming movies, Tandon is looking at expanding INOX’s portfolio. The company added 21 screens in FY22 and has plans to add another 17 by the end of March. “For the remaining screens, 80 percent of the work is completed and an additional capex of Rs 10 crore will be required to complete the work,” he said.
Tandon said that by FY23 the pace of acquiring more screens will be back to pre-pandemic levels and added that beyond FY22, they have signed up nearly 135 properties and 935 screens. “Once this entire pipeline is implemented, we will have 297 properties and 1,619 screens,” he said.