While major markets have allowed theatres to reopen, that was only one step of recovery from the crisis the theatre industry sees itself in 2020. It is content and other issues related to the release of new films that is worrying exhibitors.
Many thought that once Maharashtra, which is one of the biggest markets for movies, allowed theatres to reopen as it did on November 5, producers would eagerly release their films.
However, that's not the case. From higher revenue shares being demanded to shorter theatrical runs due to demand by over-the-top, (OTT) platforms. there are still many hurdles for theatre owners.
According to film trade expert Komal Nahta, the makers of Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, which is scheduled to release during the Diwali holiday weekend, are asking for higher share in box office collections. The proposal has made exhibitors extremely wary.
In addition, producers are also looking for a shorter window before releasing the film digitally on services such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar.
And it looks like Zee Studios, producers of the Diljit Dosanjh-starrer Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, have got the the go-ahead from exhibitors to release the film both on satellite and online after four weeks.
Currently, a film that has released in theatres can be released on TV or on video streaming platforms after eight weeks.
The problem Zee Studios is facing, according to Nahta, is that exhibitors are not saying anything officially. This especially comes to agreements between the producers and various multiplex chains.
Due to less clarity, the producers of the film may release the film directly on their pay-per-view platform, Zee Plex and in single screen theatres. Single screen theatres are currently even agreeing to a simultaneous release of the film in theatres and on Zee Plex.
Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari is the only new Bollywood release that theatres have after reopening. And analysts say that the film could bring back more audiences to theatres especially in single screens as people slowly flock back to the medium after a long period of lockdown.
Film trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai had tweeted recently saying that it will be the first time in history of Indian cinema that there will be no major theatrical release during Diwali.
"It is traditionally the second largest festival in terms of box-office for Kollywood. And 2020 will go down in history as Indian cinema's total washout year," he said.
Negotiations between producers and exhibitors continue about who would bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic first. Film financiers are not ready to pay the virtual print fees (VPF) to the theatre owners and are holding the release of their films until the issue is sorted.
Veteran filmmaker Bharathiraja, who heads the Tamil Film Active Producers Association in Tamil Nadu, has said that no new Tamil films will release in theatres until the VPF issues are sorted.
Karan Taurani, analyst and vice-president at Elara Capital also believes that distributor shares, VPF charges and the OTT window remain an active risk for exhibitors going into the Diwali window.
He said that these are the issues that producers wanted to discuss with the exhibitors after Maharashtra allowed theatres to reopen. Tamil Nadu will be one of the last markets to open on November 10.