Cinema hall owners are excited at the appetite the audience has shown in coming back to the big screen, something that seemed impossible during various earlier stages of the pandemic.
There was a time not so long ago when many in the business thought that the television in the living room or mobile and laptop screens had pipped the 70mm screen out of the race. The pandemic had sucked the lifeblood out of cinema halls.
Long queues at single-screen theatres and multiplexes over the past few weeks have injected fresh hope in them. On October 29, the state government issued an order increasing the occupancy at cinema halls from 50 to 70 per cent. Many hall owners said the weekends have been witnessing a near-full house within the 70 per cent ambit.
The hall owners, producers and distributors attributed the revival to vaccination and a steady supply line of films. The signs of revival were first visible during Durga Puja, when a slew of films had released. That momentum has been sustained, thanks to the release of a big budget multi-starrer from Bollywood.
With a bouquet of big-ticket films due for release in the coming days, things are looking bright for the sector after a long time. “Heartening sight after two years in cinemas,” read a Facebook post by Arijit Dutta, the owner of Priya Cinema, accompanied by pictures of a crowded corridor of the Deshapriya Park theatre just before a show on Friday.
Movie-goers outside Menoka Cinema.Sanat Kr Sinha
“Things are much, much, much better,” Dutta told this newspaper on Saturday. “Going to the cinema is a habit, which had been deeply disrupted. There are unmistakable signs that the habit is back.”
The pandemic had forced many film-makers to go for OTT releases. But now, there are clear signs that the big screen is not out of business.
The latest 007 film, No Time To Die, drew people to theatres after a long gap. Dev-starrer Golondaaj also did brisk business, said hall owners and film distributors.
That momentum was accelerated by Sooryavanshi, the first big-ticket Bollywood film to release in cinema halls in two years. Riding the box-office pull of Bollywood- A-listers, the film witnessed a “fantastic opening”, according to hall owners.
“Cinema is meant for the big screen. It has always been, and will always be a social activity,” said Firdausul Hasan, film producer and vice-president of the Film Federation of India.
“The industry is a two-way traffic. The audience is back because good films are back. Film-makers are releasing new films because the audience is back,” said Satadeep Saha, film distributor.
Navin Chokhani, the owner of Navina Cinema in Lake Gardens, said advance and online bookings have been “very encouraging” since Durga Puja.
While vaccines had injected confidence in viewers, the supply chain of films was also crucial in bringing them back to halls, he said.
“Normalcy for us does not mean a blockbuster film running in packed halls all the time. By normalcy, we mean a process — some people at the advance booking counter, posters and standees of multiple upcoming films in the corridor that leads to the screen. That is back now,” said Chokhani.
The coming weekends will see the release of multiple films. Bunty aur Babli 2, the latest offering from Yash Raj Films starring Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukerji and Ekannoborti by young director Mainak Bhaumik are slated to come out next weekend.
The Christmas week also looks promising with the expected release of 83, starring Ranveer Singh, based on India’s World Cup triumph under Kapil Dev, said hall owners.