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West Bengal is allowing cinemas to reopen, will it bring relief to industry?

Annually, Bengali cinemagoers contribute Rs 62 crore to the box office while the cinema business in the country is losing anywhere between Rs 5,800 crore and Rs 7,800 crore a month.

September 27, 2020 / 01:54 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced that cinemas will reopen in West Bengal from October 1 even though there is no communication from the Centre on allowing theatres to resume business following the lockdown.

Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi said in a tweet that it was a sign. While Banerjee's move will bring some respite, cinemas, shut for seven months now, will need a lot more to get the business going.

For now, there is some movement at least. One state is allowing cinemas to open their doors, though as a market, West Bengal does not contribute significantly to the overall box office numbers.

According to industry estimates, while the Indian film industry has been growing at 10 percent in the last four years, since 2016, the Bengali film industry’s collections have been falling by a third every year.

Annually, Bengali cinemagoers contribute Rs 62 crore to the box office against Rs 1,400 crore each brought in by Tamil and Telugu populations.

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These numbers suggest that the reopening of theatres in West Bengal will unlikely to make a difference to business in India that is estimated to be losing between Rs 5,800 crore and Rs 7,800 crore a month.

Not just revenue, West Bengal is what is termed in the trade as a “screen-starved” state. Against a national average of eight theatre screens for a million, West Bengal has just 1.7 screens.

Also, no big films, especially Hindi movies like Akshay Kumar's Sooryavanshi and Ranveer Singh-starrer 83, which are waiting for a theatrical release, will come to cinemas with only one state allowing theatres to reopen.

Delhi and Mumbai are two big cinema markets. The two cities alone account for 60 percent of the box-office business for the Hindi cinema.

There are around 40 Bengali films awaiting release but these alone cannot bring strong business for the exhibitors in West Bengal.

While the average collection for a Hindi film in the West Bengal territory is around Rs 4 crore, a Bengali movie does a far smaller business.

The real relief will come when the Centre allows cinemas to reopen across the country but even then, it will be the coronavirus that will have the deciding vote.

Maryam Farooqui
first published: Sep 27, 2020 01:54 pm