Ten days after Mamata Banerjee’s announcement that cinemas in Bengal can operate with 100 per cent capacity, the state government has yet to come up with a formal notification.
Several hall owners, however, said they were struggling to get even 10 per cent of the audience and in the absence of new films, a government notification will just be another piece of paper.
“It does not matter what capacity is allowed by the government. The capacity of one of my halls is around 800. I am not seeing even eight people in a show,” said the owner of two halls in south Calcutta.
He said the fixed establishment costs like power bills and staff salary were bleeding him, a common concern for hall owners across the state.
“I have been paying 50 per cent of the staff salary. In the coming days, I am unlikely to continue doing that,” said another hall owner.
The absence of new big-ticket films is the big problem, hall owners said.
“It is a classic chicken or egg first syndrome. Producers do not want to release big films unless occupancy is increased. Unless big films arrive, people are not going to go to cinemas,” said a distributor in Bengal.
“Halls are operating with 50 per cent capacity 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 had said on January 8, at the inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival, drawing loud applause from the audience.
The Tamil Nadu government had on January 4 passed a similar order, withdrawing the 50 per cent cap on cinema hall occupancy. But following an objection from the Union home ministry and legal challenges, the government revoked the order.
The Centre had greenlighted the reopening of cinemas from October 15, the seating capacity curtailed to 50 per cent of the total capacity.
The Covid-19 pandemic had sounded a possible death knell for many single-screen theatres. 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 the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association (EIMPA), some 75 are closed, said sources in the association.
“We had written a letter to the Union home secretary, seeking a virtual or physical meeting. Unless the occupancy is increased, we will not see big releases. But there has been no response so far,” said a Calcutta-based exhibitor, who is a member of the All India Exhibitors’ Association.