'Sooryavanshi' film poster (Image: Twitter/@DharmaMovies)
Theatres in India have been shut for over 45 days, probably the longest time in the history of Indian cinema. And if multiplexes are struggling, single-screen theatres are gasping for breath in these times of coronavirus.
But single-screen owners haven’t lost hope and are betting on upcoming films that could save the day.
"The entire resurrection process for both single screens and multiplexes has to start with filmmakers putting out great content. Akshay Kumar's Sooryavanshi can be a potential game changer. It will be the film that will open the floodgates and bring people in large numbers to cinema halls. Also, films like Laxmmi Bomb, Coolie No 1, Ranveer Singh’s 83 will kickstart the revival process," Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor/ director, Saroj Screens PVT Ltd, told Moneycontrol.
Rathi manages a chain of single screens across 11 cities and 17 properties.
He added that unlike the audience in cities, movie-goers in tier II and III towns will be ready to come back to theatres, and are mostly dominated by single screens.
“If you look at tier II and III towns, the only outdoor recreation is cinema halls. Hence, universally appealing films like 83, which is designed to be a pan-India film, will bring strong footfalls in theatres, especially single screens,” he said.
He also explained that when, on March 6, Baaghi 3 had released in theatres, the film’s majority business came from tier II and III markets and single screens. The film’s lifetime collection stands at over Rs 93 crore.
Good content also keeping single-screen owners in South hopeful
Along with Hindi films, content from southern markets is also keeping single-screen owners confident about their business. They are placing their bets on films like Vijay’s Master and Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru.
“For the single-screen audience, their only chance for entertainment is movies and every weekend, they definitely go to theatres and this is the hope that is driving us,” said Sri Krishna, who owns a single-screen theatre called Movieland.
Concurring with Krishna, Rathi added, “When we talk about down South, exhibitors are confident of good footfalls the day cinemas open and this is because of the content the South industry offers. They make content to entertain every section of society. So, the future of the exhibition sector's revival is dependent on universal content.”
Footfalls to remain low
Despite being confident about good content driving footfalls in theatres, single screen exhibitors are of the opinion that occupancy will take time to reach pre-COVID-19 level.
“Before the coronavirus disruption and lockdown, occupancy during the first week of a film’s release would be around 70-80 percent which after two weeks would drop to 40 percent. If the movie is good and stays in the theatre after four weeks then the occupancy is 20-35 percent. Now, even if a good film releases, the occupancy in the first week will not be more than 25-30 percent. In fact, it could be even lower post the lockdown when the theatre opens again,” said Krishna.
Meeting expenses is a worry
Along with low footfalls, Krishna is also worried about meeting expenses for which currently he is using money from his savings account.
“I have 20 people in my staff and I am paying them their salaries for now because I will need them when the theatre opens,” he said.
Same is the case with Rathi who said, “We are paying salaries and taking care of maintenance cost out of our own pockets.”
Just like single screens, smaller multiplexes are also under stress.
“Since March 15 there was no business. April and May is a peak period as there are school holidays. So, from April onwards we were expecting big releases and good collections. However, everything is now on halt,” said Vishnu who owns Kasi Talkies in Chennai.
To ease off the pressure Vishnu suggested that “if entertainment tax from Tamil Nadu film exhibitors is not collected for few months that could help us reduce ticket prices.”