Something curious is happening in cinema halls and multiplexes in Karnataka since the past one month: Every movie has two intervals.
This would be a juicy opportunity to insert more ads in a show in the pre-pandemic days, but the virus has wiped out most advertisements, and the extra interval is also a headache for theatre owners as it eats into the time needed to sanitise the hall after the show.
The government order for the second interval, part of safety protocols for the pandemic, has also perplexed the audience which has seen only one intermission in movies for the last 50 years. Only Raj Kapoor made movies that needed two breaks: Sangam, released in 1964 that went on for 3 hours 58 minutes and Mera Naam Joker in 1970 that was 17 minutes longer. are the only two such movies in Bollywood history.
"I was confused when the film stopped and there was a second break. I went out of the auditorium to check with the cinema staff about this another break," said Prashant, who didn't reveal his last name. Prashant who was at a multiplex in Bengaluru with his family to watch the movie Tom & Jerry that released on February 26, said that he was not aware about the two-interval order by the state government.
A day after Karnataka government allowed theatres to operate at 100 percent capacity, it had issued fresh set of standard operating procedures for theatres. The new SOPs include having two intervals for every show to reduce exposure time and facilitate ventilation as part of COVID-19 precaution.
Since February 4, theatres in Karnataka are having two intervals per show.
"People in the state are not aware about this new development and often come to complain about the second break. Many are uncomfortable with the additional interval," said an official who works in a PVR theatre in Bengaluru.
He said it was difficult for them to manage the second interval as they need time after every show to sanitise the auditorium.
Another theatre official, who didn't wish to be named, said the intervals were being shortened to save time needed to sanitise auditoriums after the show.
While in some multiplexes one interval lasts 15 minutes and the second interval is for five minutes, there are multiplexes that have two short intervals.
Usually, intervals last eight to 10 minutes. But after the new recommendation by the state government the total interval time has increased.
And this is not spelling good news for exhibitors. Interval was the window for cinema advertising which currently is not seeing strong traction from advertisers.
Ad spends plunged from Rs 1,008 crore in 2019 to Rs 175 crore in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year cinemas are expected to see ad spends of about Rs 520 crore, according to a recently released Group M report.
While advertisements in movie shows may increase in the coming months thanks to strong content pipeline, so far, theatres are not seeing much traction. This is why during intervals theatres are mostly showing movie trailers and very few advertisements.
"Advertising is not there. So, all the more reason to do shorter intervals," said the official quoted above.
But two intervals could help in better food and beverage (F&B) sales?
Theatre officials said that's not the case because the second interval is too short for audience to indulge in F&B and people most of the time end up sitting inside the auditorium waiting for the movie to start.
How are two intervals being planned?
While intervals may be unusual internationally, it is common in Indian films. And that's because movie scripts are written keeping intervals in mind.
In Indian films, the interval is a mini-climax which leaves audience wondering about what will happen in the second half of the film. Hence, writers incorporate intervals at the right place in the script.
But writers only think about one interval. So, who is deciding the addition of second interval?
The two theatre officials cited above explained that it is the programming team that is taking the call for the second interval.
"Before programming and scheduling every movie, the programming team watches the movie and identifies those additional moments where they can plan an interval. They do so to ensure that the entire movie experience is not abruptly interrupted. For regular intervals, while the producers determine what should be the moment of interval, the programming people also have the skill to plan intervals."
While theatres in Karnataka are following government orders, exhibitors find it a challenge to plan two intervals especially for Hollywood content which are usually shorter than Indian films.
Theatre officials pointed out that intervals are not just breaks and that they have a huge significance in the cinema industry for a lot of reasons.
"Writers plan the interval in such a way that it is a fresh beginning for audience post interval. From cinema operations perspective, intervals are important for F&B sales. For audience, it is break time. Then it is cinema advertising which is about our saleable inventory. So, intervals have their own significance in the entire cinema business," said the theatre official.
But after Karnataka government's revised SOPs for theatres, many movies have had two intervals. Will more movies have two intervals? That will be known once the the government reviews the recommendations which it said it will do in the first week of March.