Bollywood seemed poised to bounce back to the normal, pre-pandemic level of business with the release of this year’s first medium-sized film Roohi on March 11.
The film, starring Rajkumar Rao and Janhvi Kapoor, started on a strong note with opening collections of over Rs 3 crore, but the box-office situation was different for another new venture -- Mumbai Saga.
After Roohi's promising performance, the John Abraham and Emraan Hashmi starrer Mumbai Saga was expected to earn about Rs 5 crore on its opening day but it managed barely Rs 2.82 crore the day it was released on March 19.
So, what happened in eight days that made Bollywood struggle instead of improving box-office numbers?
It is the rise in number of COVID-19 cases that has prompted many states to reintroduce restrictions, which has hit business at cinema halls. There were 43,846 fresh cases reported in the past 24 hours, the health ministry had said on March 21, the highest single-day rise this year.
States such as Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat have imposed night curfew in places where the number of COVID-19 cases are high.
This is bad news for Bollywood.
Bollywood back in trouble
"The scare factor amid the audience has come back. Due to the scare factor because of coronavirus, movie watching becomes the last thing on people's minds. Also, if the cases continue to rise then yes it will impact big ventures as well," Girish Johar, film producer and trade business analyst told Moneycontrol.
According to analyst Karan Taurani, who tracks media and entertainment space closely and is vice-president of Elara Capital, Akshay Kumar's Sooryavanshi which is likely to hit theatres on April 30 could see a drop in collections if number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
"The industry expectation was that Sooryavanshi could notch up to Rs 250 crore basis the pent-up demand and (Coronavirus) situation improving. If situation does not improve, especially in Maharashtra, there could be a 20-30 percent drop in collections," said Taurani.
Along with the box-office impact, Taurani said there would be the issue of bargaining power of exhibitors getting affected due to the current situation. "Distributor share will go up significantly and exhibitors will be in a catch 22 situation because rentals are coming back to pre-COVID."
He said it would be a double whammy for exhibitors with a contracting release window, which refers to a film coming to an over-the-top (OTT) platform after theatrical release.
Even Sooryavanshi which has been bagged by Netflix is likely to start streaming on the OTT platform from May 28.
"Release window coming down is the new normal and will continue to be so at least for the next three to six months. Also, a four-week window, (down from eight week window in the pre-COVID times), impacts collections," added Taurani.
The challenge of curfews
Then there is the issue of night curfews in some places which will make things more difficult for exhibitors.
"Night curfews impact collections as evening shows in multiplexes get affected. You can't have a show at 7 pm because it will end at 10 pm. So, the last show you can have is 6 pm which means half of the running box office day is gone," said Johar.
Taurani concurs. He said the number of shows an exhibitor runs in a theatre, which was around four pre-COVID, has come down because of sanitization process and longer intervals.
"So, exhibitors are operating at lower efficiency any which ways and with this night curfew it will be a bigger challenge as these shows get maximum occupancy, especially on weekends. And given the situation we are in, not many people are at home. So, gone are the days when people were working from home and would go to the cinema during the day time," he said.
Due to night curfew, situation will get tougher for exhibitors. Taurani said average occupancy during weekends is around 60-65 percent for night and evening shows. For blockbuster ventures, it is close to 80-85 percent during the weekend.
More struggle for single screens
And when it comes to type of cinemas, Taurani thinks that single screens will struggle more as there are chances of large films getting delayed and share of multiplexes will go up.
He cited PVR's example. He said that when Roohi released, PVR's share of the movie's total box office earning went up to over 30 percent. In the pre-COVID period, PVR's box office share for a similar venture would have been 22 percent. This is because many single screens that are shut will reopen only with the release of big Bollywood ventures.
"Single screens theatres will only open if large films release. If they hear Sooryavanshi
getting postponed to June or if something happens to Radhe's
release then it will be a big problem for single screen cinemas. And they will be in a more challenging situation," said Taurani.