It’s been a topsy-turvy ride for the film business this year. After staying shut for more than six months last year due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, cinemas reopened to a dull response with little fresh content.
But exhibitors started 2021 on a positive note, when southern superstar Vijay’s Master released. Then came the Rajkumar Rai and Janhvi Kapoor-starrer Roohi, which instilled theatre owners with more hope.
“We recorded 22-23 percent occupancy for Roohi in the first week. With Roohi’s release, occupancy levels went up from 5 to 7 percent to double digits after a long time. And even in the second week, occupancy levels were at similar levels for Roohi,” Rudra Prasad Daw, Business Head, SVF Cinemas, told Moneycontrol.
Other theatre chains also witnessed higher occupancy levels with Roohi’s release. “Roohi has resulted in a boost in occupancy levels, especially in the North Indian market. The first weekend of Roohi had close to pre-Covid levels of occupancy for us,” said a spokesperson for multiplex chain Cinepolis.
Inox Leisure’s Chief Programing Officer Rajender Singh Jyala also said occupancy levels were gradually inching northwards in the Northern and Western markets and with more Bollywood ventures lined up for release he expects to see occupancies returning to pre-Covid levels soon.
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Along with rising occupancy levels, Roohi’s release also brought the family audience to some extent back to theatres.
“We have started operations in Rajasthan and we saw the family audience coming to theatres there,” said Taarun V Jain, MD, Legend Group, which operates Legend SRS Cinemas.
Both Cinepolis and INOX also saw this audience coming back to theatres. “While the initial numbers were skewed towards students and youngsters, we have seen families returning to the movies, especially over weekends,” said the Cinepolis spokesperson.
With occupancy levels going up, the family audience coming back and a lot of fresh content slated for release, Daw and other exhibitors were confident that occupancy levels would go up to 60-65 percent especially, with the release of Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi.
Covid creates uncertainties
But just when it looked like the situation was improving for the film business, uncertainty has started looming over cinemas due to rising number of Covid-19 cases. The impact was felt by two new Bollywood ventures — the John Abraham and Emraan Hashmi-starrer Mumbai Saga and Parineeti Chopra’s Saina.
Mumbai Saga, which released on March 19, was expected to rake in around Rs 10 crore in its first weekend alone, but the film didn’t have that instant success, instead collecting Rs 13.43 crore after one week. Another Bollywood venture, Saina, opened with low collections of Rs 15 lakh.
According to Karan Taurani, Vice-President, Elara Capital, Hindi content continues to be a laggard. He expects Saina, which was made with a budget of around Rs 35 crore, to report a lifetime collection of only Rs 5 crore.
Taurani said Maharashtra, which is currently facing a Covid surge far worse than the previous one, is an important market, especially for Bollywood ventures. Due to the resurgence of the coronavirus in Maharashtra and many restrictions being reintroduced, box office collections are taking a hit.
To compound matters, many film releases are being delayed.
“YRF’s (Yash Raj Films) Bunty Aur Babli 2 which was slated to release on April 23 has been postponed yet again. The makers of Sooryavanshi will take a call on the postponement by April 8-10, before marketing efforts begin. We believe there is a high likelihood of this film, too, getting postponed,” said Taurani.
Some cheer at the box office
Amid the gloom in the cinema business, a Hollywood venture brought some cheer. Godzilla vs Kong notched up a high score of over Rs 6 crore, which makes the film highest opener among Hindi and Hollywood releases in the time of Covid-19.
Before Godzilla vs Kong, it was Roohi that had reported highest day one collection, to the tune of over Rs 3 crore.
The Hollywood venture has been able to gather as much as Rs 22 crore in four days of its release and the film is expected to take the total to Rs 28-30 crore after its first weekend.
While Godzilla vs Kong has seen the majority of its business coming from the southern markets, the film did see good traction during the weekend in Mumbai and Delhi. Yet, 60 percent of the collections are still from the South.
Maharashtra is crucial for cinemas
This is why Taurani believes that things will get better for the film business only when the situation in Maharashtra, in terms of Covid-19 cases, improves as the market contributes 26 percent to the overall box office collections of Hindi films.
“Restrictions in Maharashtra will continue towards the Good Friday weekend in the form of local lockdowns, night curfews, buildings sealed…, which will hamper mobility and movement. Plus, the recently announced norm of having a Covid negative certificate for malls is another big dampener. Hence, if the situation does not come under control or if restrictions still exist until the release of the Salman Khan-starrer Radhe, which is slated to release on Eid (May 13), postponement of this film will have a severe near-term negative impact on exhibitors, said Taurani.
He also pointed out that the industry has already been missed out on opportunities such as Republic day, Holi and the Good Friday weekend. So, if Eid, too, doesn’t see the release of a large film, the first quarter of FY22 will see a huge negative impact.For multiplexes, the rentals are back at what they were in the pre-Covid period. Hence, if occupancy levels fall or film releases get delayed, especially those that are scheduled for festival weekends, the entire film business will feel the aftershocks.