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Cinema full-attendance test

Theatres to start operating with full capacity as soon as they receive government notification
Mamata Banerjee at the inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival at Nabanna on Friday. Shah Rukh Khan joined the programme virtually.
Mamata Banerjee at the inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival at Nabanna on Friday. Shah Rukh Khan joined the programme virtually.
Telegraph Picture

Debraj Mitra, Sudeshna Banerjee, M.R. Venkatesh   |   Calcutta, Chennai   |   Published 09.01.21, 01:32 AM

Cinema halls in Bengal can operate with 100 per cent attendance, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Friday.

“Halls are operating with 50 per cent audience because of the pandemic. I will ask chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay to issue a notification allowing halls to run with 100 per cent capacity,” Mamata said at the inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival, triggering a loud applause.


“We will ask the hall owners to ensure the use of masks and hand sanitisers and sanitiser spray after each show.”

Hall owners, bleeding financially first from the long shutdown and then the cap, said the decision has thrown a lifeline for them. They said they would start operating with full capacity as soon they got the government notification, which was not issued till Friday night.

The Tamil Nadu government had on January 4 passed a similar order, increasing the cap on cinema halls from 50 to 100 per cent. The order came after an appeal from the theatre owners’ association there. But following an objection from the Union home ministry and legal challenges, the state government revoked its order on Friday.

A letter from the home secretary to the Tamil Nadu chief secretary said the lifting of the cap violated the disaster management act. A couple of petitions challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s January 4 order are pending at Madras High Court.

The Centre had greenlighted the reopening of cinemas from October 15, the seating capacity curtailed to 50 per cent of the total capacity.

The Telegraph had reported in July how the Covid-19 pandemic had sounded a possible death knell for many single screen theatres across Bengal.

Many of the theatres had already been bleeding with the arrival of multiplexes, a “high” GST slab for regional films and “fewer blockbusters”. The prolonged shutdown because of the Covid-19 curbs made their situation worse.

The absence of new releases has continued to hurt the theatre owners. Hundreds of people who worked in the halls have lost their jobs, many more have been forced to take pay cuts.

“Out of around 225 halls registered with us, some 75 are closed, some of them for good,” said a senior member of the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA).

Owners of single-screen theatres in Bengal wrote to the chief minister on Tuesday, urging her to allow full occupancy, while citing huge losses in business. They cited the Tamil Nadu government’s order a day ago.

Ratan Saha, the chairperson of the exhibitors’ section of the EIMPA, said the chief minister’s decision was a “life-saver for the industry”.

Saha, aware of the Centre’s objection to the Tamil Nadu government’s decision, said: “The Centre should consider the situation we are in. The lives of so many people are associated with this industry. We will take our concerns to Delhi, if needed”.

Arijit Dutta, the owner of Priya Cinema, the Bioscope chain of multiplexes and other standalone theatres in the state, described Mamata’s announcement as “an extremely important decision”.

Many theatre owners said they did not expect many big-budget Hindi films which are in the pipeline to release in the immediate future. They cited the “threat of OTT platforms”, the avenue for some new releases in the recent past.

“The makers might want to wait for similar moves by other state governments. But at least some Bengali films held back so far will be released in the coming days following the chief minister’s order,” said an owner.

“From aeroplanes, to buses to political rallies, there is no curb anywhere. Why should we continue to suffer?” asked another theatre owner in Calcutta.

Another exhibitor pointed out that in a November 25 notification, the home ministry curbs were extended till January 31. “We are hopeful that after that, the ministry would relax the curbs,” he said.

“We are grateful to Mamata Banerjee for the announcement. We have also written to the Centre, seeking full occupancy in cinemas. We are hopeful of a positive outcome,” said Firdausul Hasan, a producer and member of the Film Federation of India.

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