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Aamir Khan.

With Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) issuing an order that cinema exhibition in the Capital will not resume on October 15, despite a Union home ministry directive, things are back to square one for the city’s film trade…writes Natalia Ningthoujam.

For now, closure of all cinema exhibition has been extended till October 31 in Delhi. There is no surety that the state government might agree to the opening of cinema halls even after that.

“After the overwhelming response to ‘Khaali Peeli’ at the drive-in screening in Gurugram, our spirits were high on welcoming audiences back to theatres. However, the decision by DDMA has been a bit disappointing after the good news from the home ministry,” Shreyans Hirawat, Director at the film production company, NH Studioz, told IANS.

“However, we respect the decision and can only pray and anticipate to revisit the same at the earliest possible. We also want safety of audiences before anything else. As most film studios are speculative on the footfalls in theatres to start planning the releases, Delhi and Maharashtra play the most critical role contributing to 50 percent of the BOC (box office collection) nationwide,” Hirawat added.

Ranveer Singh.

Raj Kumar Mehrotra, general manager at the Capital’s Delite Cinema, shared that the total loss of the industry so far, would be “somewhere around Rs 3000 to 4000 crore due to missing the festive season releases, partial opening of territory cinema halls, and big budget producers refraining from releasing their films”.

“If not subsidies, the government should give tax holiday for a year, for us to overcome losses. We need to survive,” Mehrotra said.

He explained the grimness of the situation: “It’s been a long time since the business got shut. Lakhs of people are associated with it, so we are disappointed but the Delhi government must be knowing the actual situation. At least, five to six big films are ready for release. But right now, there is a lot of uncertainty.”

Mehrotra shared that the opening of cinemas in “Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat is not enough”.

“Every state needs to open up so that film studios can plan their films’ releases,” he pointed out.

Kunal Sawhney, Senior Vice President, Operations, Carnival Cinemas, feels that this will affect the business in the long run.

“We are giving reassurance to state governments that we will be following all the norms. There are many countries where cinema halls and multiplex have opened up, and there have been no reports that Covid-19 has spread from cinemas. We will be checking tickets and temperature of people. The Metro, malls, bars and restaurants are open. How are cinemas different? Big states aren’t opening. Major content may shift to OTT, which in the long run will be an issue for us,” Sawhney told IANS.

“A lot many jobs are directly or indirectly related to our industry — the staff, housekeeping, security, people buying raw materials, even auto drivers who bring passengers to halls. People are in a big problem because over the past six to seven months, no revenue was generated,” he shared.

Akshay Kumar.

In fact, he feels that going to a cinema hall can be like a half-day picnic.

“Cinema is not just a movie experience, but it also reflects culture. A family can spend Rs 400 half a day in a safe environment. We are requesting the state governments to reconsider. We have Dussehra and Diwali coming up. If the festivals are gone, we will miss the entire year,” said Sawhney.

While film studios are waiting for all the major states to open up, cinema chains are ready to welcome the audience back.

“We have made preparations already. How to enter, how to maintain social distancing — we have all arrangements in place,” said Mehrotra.

The problem, every exhibitor knows, is not just about convincing the government. Even if they are allowed to function at 50 per cent capacity to maintain social distancing, will there be enough audience to venture into the closed confines of a cinema auditorium for two hours or more? While some states are optimistic on that count, Delhi clearly still needs time to be convinced.

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