Most screens to reopen on Thursday
“Some of the multiplexes have announced that they will reopen today itself, but all the single screens will do so only from the weekend,” says Tirupur Subramanian, president of the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association.
“We are ready to open,” says Archana Kalpathi of AGS Cinemas, one of the few screens that will open today. She adds, “Our staff are fully vaccinated and all our properties are ready. We have made sure all the safety protocols are followed and our movie halls are safe. When the government allowed the reopening of offices, we started training our staff and putting up the SOPs, so we have been ready for quite some time now. We will screen Akshay Kumar’s BellBottom, which is the latest pan-India release, and probably a couple of older movies, and these will serve as a warm-up before the new Tamil films finalise their release.”
“While most other businesses were allowed to reopen, theatres weren’t given permission for so long, and we had almost given hope. So, the government’s announcement is actually a surprise for us,” says Rakesh Gowthaman of Chromepet-based Vetri Cinemas, and adds, “Now, we have to gather our staff and clean our premises again. While we have been doing general cleaning twice a week, we will do a deep cleaning before opening again, so it would take us three to four days to become operational.”
“We will probably be opening by Thursday,” informs Swaroop Reddy, Regional Director – South, PVR Cinemas. “We want to make sure that our premises are sanitised thoroughly before we open it up for public. This is more of a precautionary measure. We also want our staff to be trained again, and check whether the equipment are functioning properly as we haven’t been operational for the past few months,” he explains.
Mohit Bhargava, Regional Director – South, INOX Leisure Ltd, says, “We will evaluate our preparations and will look to start operations across all our six cinemas in Tamil Nadu at the earliest on the basis of operational readiness. Considering Tamil Nadu’s significance in the Indian film industry, this decision will ensure a faster return to normalcy for us, as well as for the entire industry.”
“There are no new releases for today and we will only have to play older releases like Karnan, and we are not sure if audiences will come for them or not. Since The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is releasing in India on Thursday, we are planning to reopen with that along with BellBottom,” says Ruban of GK Cinemas in Porur.
“We will release either by this Friday or the next, and certainly before September 10. We will decide the exact date in a couple of days after discussing with the distributors,” says Badri Venkatesh, director of the Rio Raj-Ramya Nambeesan-starrer Plan Panni Pannanum.
The impact of the second lockdown
Talking about the impact that this lockdown has had on theatres, Rakesh says, “Theatres were doing good business till 2019. In fact, many of us had plans with respect to infrastructure development and expansion in 2020. But the first lockdown laid all those plans to rest, and almost drained out our savings. Given that the cases in the state weren’t really high, we did not expect a second lockdown. And we did not expect that it would last this long! From paying EMIs to retaining employees, paying rents to landlords, and totally emptying our savings, this lockdown hit us hard. And it hit every one of us, making quite a few question themselves if they wanted to continue in an uncertain business. After the initial lockdown, it took time for our business to pick up. After Master, we recovered, and Sulthan and Karnan, helped us do peak business, but now, we will once again have to start from scratch.”
“This lockdown mainly affected theatres, hospitality and tourism sectors the most. Also, producers have been making new films during the past few months. There have been more releases on OTT compared to last year,” says Ruban.
There have been movie halls that have shuttered down for good, admits Subramanian, but adds that it would be difficult to quote a number right now. “Only after theatres reopen will we be able to know who has chosen to quit the business,” he states.
Positive signs of quick recovery
Compared to the situation last year, all the exhibitors say that things look promising this year. “After theatres opened in October, until February, there was no significant rise in cases to prove that theatres could create COVID clusters. It was only with the election campaign in March and April that the cases shot up. So, people are confident about visiting theatres,” feels Rakesh. Ruban concurs, “Almost all the businesses are open now. People want to go out.”
“We are in a better place than last year. We made sure to get all our staff vaccinated when vaccination opened up. Now, most of the public are also vaccinated, so there is some kind of security, which creates a comfort zone to come out. The other good thing this time is that when you see the Telugu industry, most of the movies that have released post lockdown have done extremely well. And these are not the big films, but small-budget films. Given that the south markets are very similar, more specifically Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, I think if we have good movies, the industry will bounce back,” opines Swaroop.
“Every time I go to a restaurant these days, I feel confident that theatres will also do well. When people feel safe to be in a restaurant for almost an hour without their masks on, I’m sure they will find theatres safe as well. And given that vaccination has been quite good in our state, people will visit theatres,” says Badri Venkatesh.
Archana, too, has high hopes, and says, “Last time, it took some time for exciting movies to release. Now, we are hoping that producers and stars stand by theatres and start releasing their films in theatres. If you look at every social outing avenue, you can see that people come out as long as they are confident the place is safe for them.”
No night shows, a deterrent for producers?
Some insiders say that many producers are wary of releasing their films now because the government has not given permission for night shows, which generate quite a bit of revenue in the city theatres. An insider tells us, “Playing only for three shows might not be feasible for big-budget films. Also, theatres are yet to open in Kerala, which is a significant market for our stars. And in Karnataka, even big-ticket Kannada films are pushing back their release because producers are not sure if they might recoup the investment. So, distributors there might be wary of buying the rights of Tamil films.”
But Swaroop feels the government might give the nod for night shows soon. “Even after opening up following the lockdown last year, we did not have night shows in the beginning stage. I’m assuming that the government will look into this. The bigger movies will take some time to get their marketing and planning in order and won’t be releasing in a week or two. So, by the time the bigger movies release, we will be operational with all shows,” he says.
Tackling the OTT challenge
Last week, the Telangana State Cinema Theaters Association had appealed to producers of Telugu films to not release their films on OTT on weekends as that might hurt the chances of films that choose theatrical release. Quiz Subramaniam if the exhibitors here have made any similar request to producers here, and he says, “Right now, we are not making any appeals to producers or the government. Let our business get back on track first. If we face any difficulties after a couple of weeks, we will discuss with them and sort the issues out.”
Big Dates, Big Hopefuls
Sep 10: Sivakumarin Sabadham
Sep 10: Borrder
Sep 10: Thalaivi
Sep 10: Laabam
Sep 10: Aranmanai 3
Oct 14: Valimai
Oct 14: Mahaan
Nov 4: Annaatthe
*Films that the trade is expecting to release on the upcoming three big festival days