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Bollywood: Losses mount, as Maharashtra theatres remain shut and 50% occupancy rule persists in most states

Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Aamir Khan, John Abraham, and Kartik Aaryan among those waiting for the state to reopen cinemas, to release new movies.

September 19, 2021 / 05:42 PM IST
'Shiddat' (above) is releasing straight-to-OTT, as are 'Sardar Udham Singh' and 'Chhorii'. (Image: screen grab)

'Shiddat' (above) is releasing straight-to-OTT, as are 'Sardar Udham Singh' and 'Chhorii'. (Image: screen grab)

After losing over Rs3,000 crore in 2020, things haven't gotten much better for the Hindi film industry in 2021. As the September quarter nears an end, Bollywood has suffered another Rs3,000 crore in losses this year already.

In 2019, Bollywood films earned over Rs4,300 crore at the box office - 2019, was the industry's best year, and 2020 and beyond were expected to be bigger and better still. However, the pandemic struck hard and cinemas haven't returned to business-as-usual since April 2020.

In the six quarters since then, back of the envelope calculations show, an earning potential of over Rs6,000 crores has been lost to the pandemic.

Things were expected to improve at least in the September quarter of 2021, with the pandemic on the wane in most parts of the country (barring Kerala) and practically all businesses slowly returning to normal.

Resuming normal life

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Over 794 million Covid jabs have been administered across the country, with more than 21 million shots given on September 17 alone. People, by and large, have started stepping out while observing Covid-specific precautions. Restaurants are going full again, flights are back to being operational, religious places are open to 'junta' at large and streets are back to being crowded again.

Having said that, the entertainment business, especially the business of big screens, continues to suffer.

Most states across the country are still enforcing the 50% occupancy rule at both single screens and multiplexes. Yes, recently Rajasthan announced 100% occupancy but other states are yet to follow suit, especially Delhi NCR where a good chunk of the movie business comes from.

Maharashtra, of course, is yet to allow cinemas to reopen.

This is where Bollywood is bleeding the most. Cases in point: BellBottom could not perform optimally and Thalaivii couldn't find any footfalls. These are the two big pan-India releases that Bollywood attempted in the last four weeks and unavailability of theatres in Maharashtra hurt them both badly.

The reasons are manifold.

It isn't just the matter of one state - even if it accounts for almost a third of the total box-office business that a film does - being unavailable. It's a matter of the whole momentum that's lost. When there is a release that happens in the entire country, preferably with 100% occupancy, there is a message that gets sent out: 'all is well'.

The release date of Bell Bottom was announced when all states were gradually reopening cinemas. There was also buzz around Maharashtra doing the same district by district, basis the positivity rate. However, the decision was quashed as quickly as it was made, and it was back to square one. By then, it was way too late for Bell Bottom to reverse its decision. And a good movie lost its chance to earn big at the box office - its fantastic performance on Amazon Prime Video is testimony to how popular it might have been in theatres.

Chehre suffered a poor fate too. But then there was not much of a choice for the Amitabh Bachchan and Emraan Hashmi starrer, since it had been waiting to release for over six months already. It came, released, and went really fast, only to gear up for an OTT release four weeks down the line.

It's understandable that seeing the fate of these movies, the makers of Thalaivii took a tough call: they announced a two-week theatrical window for the Hindi version after getting a good price from Netflix. The result? A boycott from leading multiplexes.

No new Bollywood movie is now being announced for theatrical release. Shiddat has made its plans clear for straight-to-OTT arrival and so have Sardar Udham Singh and Chhorii. These films come from Dinesh Vijan, Shoojit Sircar and Vikram Malhotra, respectively, who definitely know a thing or two about the business of movies. These directors made the films for the big-screen experience but can't afford to wait any further for theatres to reopen. After all, whenever that happens, it would still take two to three months for normalcy to return.

There's no telling when this will happen, of course. But if theatres begin their operations now, at least Diwali could be a little brighter and Christmas may bring back the festivities again.

Akshay Kumar’s Sooryaanshi, Ranveer Singh’s ’83, Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, John Abraham’s Satyameva Jayate 2 and Kartik Aaryan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 are just some of the major movies waiting for the green signal. The state that holds the key is Maharashtra. Once Maharashtra reopens theatres, the next logical step could well be for other states to start relaxing the 50% occupancy rule. It's the domino effect that will come into play.

When that might happen, though, is the big question.
Joginder Tuteja is a trade expert and film critic, and loves to talk and write about anything that is related to films. Views are personal.

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