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Tables have turned, movie business largely back to pre-Covid levels, say single-screen exhibitors

Cinema owners are enthused by the response to the Akshay Kumar film Sooryavanshi even as a cap on audience capacity continues in some states.

November 25, 2021 / 06:14 PM IST
According to film trade experts, family audiences account for 35 percent of overall footfalls in cinemas.

According to film trade experts, family audiences account for 35 percent of overall footfalls in cinemas.

The big crowd outside the single-screen Roopbani Cinema in Bihar’s Purnea district, waiting to see Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi, has restored the confidence of owner Vishek Chauhan, who endured many months of tepid business due to the pandemic.

“Many had become sympathetic towards me due to business losses because of the Covid impact. Then they saw the crowd outside my theatre for Sooryavanshi. The doubters who were arguing with me about streaming platforms eating up business are now in disbelief. We were just waiting for the right film,” said Chauhan.

Sooryavanshi may have been the break that cinema owners were waiting for. The movie opened on November 5, a day after Diwali, and touched the Rs 100 crore mark in five days.

Chauhan said he knew the euphoria for a big Bollywood film was back when the audience whistled and clapped while watching Sooryavanshi on the big screen in his theatre.

“Business has been fantastic and Sooryavanshi is bringing audiences back to theatres in a big way,” Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor/director, Saroj Screens, told Moneycontrol.

Concurring with Rathi, Chauhan said the business generated by Sooryavanshi was at pre-Covid levels in his property. However, Bunty Aur Babli 2, which released on November 19, was a washout. Yet, business for him was back to pre-pandemic levels, he said.

“The kind of numbers Sooryavanshi is generating and the kind of family audiences that are turning up for the film, I think business is pretty much back to normal,” said Chauhan. “While there is a 50 percent occupancy cap in theatres in Bihar, my concern was whether family audiences would turn up and yes, they have come in huge numbers for Sooryavanshi.”

Even footfalls are largely back to pre-Covid days, he said, adding that Sooryavanshi was the highest grosser for a Rohit Shetty film in his cinema.

According to film trade experts, family audiences account for 35 percent of overall footfalls in cinemas. Rathi said the audiences seem to be coming back with a vengeance.

“These are encouraging times. In a couple of months, business is likely to reach pre-Covid levels. While 20-25 percent are still refraining and are apprehensive about going to a theatre, the majority of the audience has turned up at theatres. This is why Sooryavanshi saw strong success,” said Rathi.

He estimates business for his cinema chain will be back to pre-pandemic levels on the back of a compelling line-up of films by end of FY22.

Asked if single screens would take longer to recover than multiplexes, he said, “For people who used to turn up at a single screen before the pandemic to come back to the same levels before Covid will be quicker than for multiplexes.”

However, in Maharashtra, the 50 percent restriction on seating capacity is a cause of concern for film exhibitors.

Manoj Desai, executive director of G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir, a single-screen theatre, said, “It is very important that we are allowed to operate at 100 percent.”

In an earlier interview to Moneycontrol, Desai had said that the 50 percent capacity restriction was “killing the exhibition space.”

“With Antim starring Salman Khan and Satyameva Jayate 2 set for release this week and vying for the same audience, the 50 percent cap is becoming a challenge,” said Rathi.

Along with the capacity restriction, the closure of cinemas, especially single-screen theatres, remains a concern, said Chauhan. Last year, an estimated 2,000 single-screen cinemas closed, of which 25 to 30 percent are expected to have shut permanently.

Chauhan said cinemas that were in bad shape before the pandemic haven’t restarted and they must upgrade in order for them to come back.
Maryam Farooqui
first published: Nov 25, 2021 06:14 pm
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