In many Indian states, theatres reopened in October but in Kerala, screens only opened with the release of Vijay's Master, which started running in cinemas from January 13.
It is after 10 months that theatres in Kerala have reopened and that too with the release of a big venture.
Film trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said that Kerala is doing a smart thing by reopening with Master. "There are 630 screens (including multiplex screens) in Kerala. Out of that 80 percent of screens are reopening with Master."
One such theatre that is releasing Master is Priyadarsini Cinemas, a three-screen property in Kerala which was started by PK Kaimal in 1973 and is now being run by his son Kaimal Kumar.
"When it comes to big content no new films have released. But for Pongal festival, new releases are coming from the South film industry. While Pongal is not a big festival in Kerala, the star power of Vijay is phenomenal here. And such a film will bring crowd to theatres essentially the youth," said Kumar.
Even Pillai pointed out that south superstar Vijay has a strong fan following in Kerala. He said, "First, the Malayalam film industry opening with a Tamil film in itself is unique. Never before have all screens in Kerala played a Tamil film. Amid the Tamil big heroes, Vijay is very popular and he is as popular as Malayalam star Mohanlal."
"Big business is expected from Kerala even at 50 percent. A Tamil film starring Vijay normally gets 100 to 150 screen in Kerala. But Master will be running in around 400 screens. Kerala exhibitors are giving Master priority over Malayalam films. Even release dates of Hollywood ventures like Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) have been shifted," Pillai added.
While there are Malayalam films ready to release but they are kept on hold as exhibitors in Kerala are giving Master priority.
While all eyes are on Master currently, Kumar said that there are about 80 Malayalam films that are in various stages of completion. "About 60 films are complete and can start releasing in the next two to three weeks. Malayalam films will start releasing on January 22. The producers' association has said that they will regulate film releases which will be one or two in a week so that there is no crowding."
Pillai said that a Malayalam film titled Sumesh & Ramesh is scheduled to release on January 24.
Kumar pointed out the Malayalam film industry was seeing a high growth trajectory before the outbreak of coronavirus.
"Until the first week of March 2020, Malayalam film industry was seeing a 20-30 percent growth," said Kumar.
But things changed when theatres had to shut down due to coronavirus-led lockdown. While there was no revenue generation, theatres had to attend to fixed costs like electricity, employee cost, among others.
And this became a huge problem for theatre owners when they reopened especially in Kerala.
"One issue was entertainment tax which is over and above Goods and Services Tax (GST). The entertainment tax in Kerala is 8.5 percent. The other issue was theatres were required to pay a fixed charge of electricity. This was a big liability. For each screen, the cost was around Rs 10-12 lakh. And this is why we had said that we won't reopen until we get some relief," said Kumar.
The Kerala government on January 11 said that cinema theaters have been exempted from entertainment tax from January to March 2021. In addition, fixed electricity charges are reduced by 50 percent for the 10 months during the period when theatres were shut.
Kumar said that this is a huge relief. He said that the remaining 50 percent fixed electricity charges can be paid in installments.
Along with the government supporting the theatre industry, the release of Master
is making Kerala exhibitors confident about business especially with the film seeing strong advance booking.