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Coloured Days Ahead For Cinema?

With Mumbai, the epicentre of the entertainment industry, resuming cinema operations soon, positive sentiments among the film fraternity is giving strong signals, further stretching to the regional film industry as well

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Succeeding the recent news of the Maharashtra government announcing to reopen cinema halls and drama theatres in the state ahead of Diwali, there is a wave of cheer and hope amongst the industry stakeholders. It looks like the cinema exhibition industry has had its share of gloomy & stagnated days and is finally rearing to come back in action. In fact, recent data suggest that the shares of multiplex owners Inox Leisure and PVR climbed up to 18 per cent in the last week of September. Signalling green shoots, shares of Inox Leisure soared 17.83 per cent to hit a high of Rs 412.20 on BSE. PVR climbed 10 per cent to hit a high of Rs 1,662.20. This comes as great news after the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) had claimed losses to the tune of Rs 4,800 crore.

With most states already permitted resumption of operations, some even allowing 100 per cent occupancy, this move comes as a big respite for Hindi film lovers, as well as Hollywood, as Maharashtra contributes almost 40 per cent of box office for English content.

Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX extends his welcome to the announcements of release dates made by various production houses. “Our teams are geared up to dish out the hugely exciting content line-up in the manner it should be best enjoyed. We now have both passion and content on our side to stage a remarkable comeback and entertain film lovers. The emerging content line-up also augurs well for the financial health of the cinema exhibition sector, and should hasten the recovery process,” he mentions.

For Ashim Mathur, Senior Regional Director, Emerging Markets, Dolby Laboratories, the experience of watching movies on a big screen is unparalleled and the audiences have missed out on this immersive experience because of the multiple lockdowns. “Now, with new films releasing, we are confident that the big immersive experience is going to be back to the cinemas, like always,” he says.

In the last year and a half, we saw new trends emerging in the content consumption space including the explosion of over-the-top (OTT) platforms, films releasing directly on OTTs and televisions in some cases. However, there were a few studios and producers who held on to their projects for the theatrical release. “Now, with theatres reopening, we expect to see these big-budget films queuing up for release. This clubbed with the upcoming festive season should certainly attract the audiences to the theatres opening the market for everyone. We also hope that this trend will speed up the production process of projects that were announced but could never kick-start,” suggests Pradeep Dwivedi, Chief Executive Officer, Eros STX.

Huge Respite

Experts embrace the unlocking of cinema halls across the country, especially for the studios, producers and theatre owners. Many studios and producers were holding back their big-budget films for a theatrical release for long and the audiences missed out on the wholesome watching experience at a cinema hall. Perhaps, the new trend of films coming to OTTs directly in the last one year may be here to stay, only to lead the expansion of the entire ecosystem such as more projects, more talent apart from the stars getting breaks, the rise of regional language content, expansion of the audience base etc.

Experts expect the reopening of theatres to bring in overall improvement of their bottom lines. For PVR alone, Mumbai’s screen presence is next only to other cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai and has a share of 28 per cent of its West Region.

Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR is already witnessing the locking of release dates by the producers of Big Ticket Bollywood movies waiting on the sidelines starting this festive season and beyond. “A strong content pipeline of big-budget and big star-cast of Hindi movies is expected to drive footfalls back to the big screen nationally as it cuts across language barriers, aided by the revival of economic activity and mass vaccination,” he says.

The flurry of Hindi film releases is a welcome sign for exhibitors as it will help maintain the steady flow of footfalls in comparison to the lack of new Hindi content that the industry faced after reopening of theatres in October after the first wave which forced them to focus on promoting regional and Hollywood films.

“From the producer point of view, since there would be an issue of plenty, movies may not get adequately spaced out to get a longer theatrical window for release. However, producers still would prefer to wait for a theatrical release that is the normal monetisation journey of movies and generates the bulk of a movie’s revenue. Also, since Hollywood Studios have already announced their big-ticket movie release dates on which the movie exhibition market was riding on, we could see the overlapping of Hindi and English films,” adds Dutta.

For Atul Mohan, Editor, Complete Cinema, while the opportunities may be plenty, they come wrapped in challenges. “The first biggest challenge is to attract the audience back to cinema halls with good content (star-studded), ensuring all safety precautions and competitive ticket pricing. The 50 per cent capacity is also one of the challenges,” he points out.

The Audiences’ Act
People across geographies and demographics are primarily social beings – they want to get out and entertain themselves and movie viewing is one of the best and cheapest forms of out-of-home entertainment for the entire family. Restaurants, shopping malls, holiday destinations are already witnessing increased footfalls, highlighting the desire of people to seek outdoor entertainment after being confined to their homes for the majority of 2020.

The multiplex industry thrives on a constant supply of content week on week meeting the varied preferences of audiences and this is expected to bring the much-needed footfalls to cinemas and help in stabilising the film exhibition business, expect some industry leaders.

Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts also feels that the audiences are quite open to the idea of coming back to movie halls. “We’ve seen in other parts of the country that audiences have come back with a vengeance. In the South movie market that opened at the start of the year, we saw huge footballs for several big films. Telugu industry which is allowed to operate at 100 per cent capacity is seeing fantastic occupancy levels even in the last week or so,” he observes.

However, for Dwivedi, getting the audiences inside like it was in pre-pandemic days might take longer as they may want to get comfortable with the idea of watching movies again in the theatres. “That said, I believe that the theatres may initially witness moderate response and then as the situation improves and the audience gets comfortable, we may start seeing them returning to the theatres with full enthusiasm. The upcoming festive season should help speed up this process.”

Content Pipeline
Multiple lockdowns later, the reverberations are sure to be felt on the content pipeline too. Considerable time has already been lost with the staggered permission for reopening from different states and restriction in seating capacity led to wait and watch policy from the producers who held back their content or chose to release them on OTT instead of theatres.

Dutta expounds how this Independence Day weekend, traditionally a very important period for the release of patriotic movies and that brings in incremental footfalls, did not see any release of that genre of movies. “Considering the severe impact of the ongoing pandemic on our business, PVR cinemas had already agreed to reduce the 8-week theatrical window to four weeks, for all films releasing in the near future. This is a temporary step by PVR cinemas to assist its producer partners in realising the full commercial potential of their films, while keeping the sanctity of theatrical experience, intact.

In view of this, audiences may become selective and crave for the theatre experience for only the tent pole movies, star-studded larger-than-life extravaganzas such as Action, Adventure or Fantasy genre,” he asserts.

With a lot of backlog in terms of movies, few experts look relaxed until middle of 2022. Even the TV production sector will get enough time to quickly ramp up. “This means that by the mid of 2022, a lot of films that are being shot right now will finish and then can take their place in this league. So, any change in production pipeline in unlikely in the next few months,” adds Puri.

Mohan too doesn’t anticipate any change with content formats, “Within 24 hours of reopening, we saw the bombardment of announcements of release dates. Playing content for theatres is not an issue.”

With some big clashes of large Hindi/English films slated for the next few months, along with relaxation in the occupancy front and elimination of night curfew, it hints at a silver lining for the cinema industry.

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cinema maharashtra government October Magazine 2021