Cinema hall owners have asked the Central government to allow operations at 50 percent occupancy, arguing that it will not be economically viable otherwise. Reports suggested the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) is considering a staggered opening of theatres with a 25 percent cap on capacity.
The government is in the process of preparing new guidelines for further relaxation of restrictions from August 1. If the 25 percent cap is enforced, in addition to the entire front and back rows, every alternate seat in a row must be kept empty, as per a Business Standard report.
According to the hall owners, unlike in other countries, in India, the cost of the rental is high and tickets are priced low (around Rs 150-250), which makes it unviable to run operations if half the seats are not occupied.
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The nationwide lockdown, imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19, has impacted 10,000-odd screens (of which 2,800 are in multiplexes).
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"If in flights, where the average journey is two hours, the middle seat has not been kept vacant. It defies logic why cinema halls being asked to keep front and back rows empty, plus every alternate seat," said a senior executive of a multiplex company.
The owners have proposed a seating arrangement resembling a chessboard, which will ensure 50-50 distribution. "The discussions between screen owners and the government are ongoing and a final call will be taken soon," sources told BS.
Also read: Unlock 3.0: Will schools, cinema halls, international flights restart? Here's what FICCI recommends
Multiplex owners, meanwhile, have prepared a detailed standard opening procedure (SoP) to be followed when operations commence. These include sanitisation of the hall before and after each show, the row-wise exit of customers, staggered show timings, paperless tickets, among others.
Industry body FICCI in its Unlock 3.0 roadmap has suggested the government to reopen multiplexes and cinemas and metro rail, and allow international flight services, among others, with adherence to all safety precautions. The industry chamber has also favoured reopening of schools and educational institutions keeping in mind the local situation, as it outlined standard operating procedures for the lifting of several restrictions as part of Unlock 3.0.
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