It has been nearly a week since Maharashtra allowed cinema halls to restart operations after months of shutdown due to the coronavirus impact, and top multiplexes PVR, INOX, Cinepolis, Carnival Cinemas and Miraj Cinemas have reopened theatres in the state.
Mostly are playing Hollywood content and seeing a mixed response from the audience. “There is an interesting mix of Hollywood, Bollywood and regional content such as Dune, Venom and Bhavai, among others,” Devang Sampat, CEO, Cinépolis India, told Moneycontrol.
Theatres are screening Bell Bottom, No Time to Die, Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings and will also be offering F9: The Fast Saga and Halloween Kills.“For movies like Bond, Venom in IMAX format, our theatres were near to houseful over the weekend. With Diwali releases, we will have a blockbuster collection,” said Kunal Sawhney, chief operating officer, Carnival Cinemas.
For Diwali, Carnival Cinemas will reopen over 300 screens across India with the release of Sooryavanshi and Eternals.
Amit Sharma, managing director, Miraj Cinemas, said that Maharashtra has picked up from day one of restarting because unlike other markets during the first phase of reopening, there was no lack of new content. Cinemas during the first phase of unlocking faced a lack of fresh releases and had to screen older films, which saw little to no traction.
In the second phase of reopening, exhibitors, especially in Maharashtra have a strong pipeline of new content, leading to good occupancy, said Sampat.
While Mukta A2 Cinemas, a chain by Mukta Arts, a company founded by veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai, is yet to reopen theatres in Mumbai, managing director Rahul Puri said the audience response has been good at competing halls but limited to English films.
“Bond has been the major draw but there has been an audience for Venom as well. Mostly though, the audience is one of people very dedicated to movies. We are not seeing a mainstream audience as yet,” he added.
“The 50 percent (occupancy) restriction is a handicap and though some theatres in Mumbai and Pune saw almost full capacity for some Bond shows over the weekend, mostly occupancy has been in the 10-15% range on weekends and lower on the weekdays but we expect this to pick up for Diwali,” Puri said.
Expectations are high for the holiday as it will see a big Bollywood release after a long time with Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi releasing on November 5.
Other Bollywood films will follow soon, including Bunty Aur Babli 2 on November 19, Satyameva Jayate 2 and Antim on November 26, Ranveer Singh-starrer 83 on December 24 and Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey on December 31. Overall, there will be around 10 Bollywood releases in the next two months.
Bollywood is key for the cinema business because pre-COVID, Hindi films were the biggest contributor to India’s box office, accounting for 43 percent of overall box office revenue in 2019, according to a 2020 report by consulting company EY. But Hindi films’ content pipeline remained dry for over a year due to closure of theatres in Maharashtra as the state contributes 25-30 percent to a Hindi film's box office collection.
Now, with theatres reopening in Maharashtra, exhibitors like PVR expect a strong recovery from the fourth quarter of this fiscal.
However, a sore point for exhibitors in the state is the ban on food and beverages (F&B) inside auditoriums.
“F&B outside the auditorium is a worry. It’s a difficult rule to enforce for operators and we are trying our best but patrons are likely to leave out food in the situation where they need to eat outside. It's a very tough situation that I hope we can resolve soon with the government,” said Puri.
For top multiplexes, F&B contributes 25-30 percent to overall revenues.Carnival Cinemas’ Sawhney said that restriction on F&B inside auditoriums disrupts the entire experience of movie watching. “We are requesting government to give permission,” he said.