September 30 will go down as a red-letter day in the history of the film industry because it was on this day that the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Central government finally granted cinemas across the nation permission to reopen after a seven-month closure, necessitated by the coronavirus lockdown. In fact, cinemas had been asked to down shutters a week before a nationwide lockdown was announced in March-end. There were several false alarms and rumours about the date of reopening of cinemas during the six-and-a-half months of closure so far. After the reopening, multiplexes and single-screen cinemas will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity only, that too, after following hygiene and strict sanitation procedures including social distancing. Of course, the announcement by the MHA is blanket. Each state government would now have to consider the position in its state and accordingly grant cinemas permission to reopen.
Delhi, Bihar, Karnataka were the first three states to announce closure of their cinemas with effect from March 13/14. Maharashtra and Gujarat followed suit and within a couple of days thereafter, cinemas in almost every state of India had downed shutters in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak which was waiting to happen. This means, multiplexes and single-screen cinemas will reopen after a closure of almost 215 days, give or take a day or two in different states.
The trade welcomed the news of the reopening with joy and good cheer. Although there’s a huge responsibility on the cinemas to observe social distancing and hygiene procedures, the fact that they’ve been allowed to resume business has gladdened the hearts of those associated with the film industry in general and the exhibition trade in particular. The Multiplex Association of India (MAI) said that it wholeheartedly welcomed the decision by the government of India “to allow cinemas to reopen across the country starting October 15, 2020”. A press release of the MAI reads: “Millions of movie lovers, employees of the cinema exhibition sector, along with the entire film industry were eagerly awaiting this announcement. We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for their support and guidance. We are committed to ensuring a safe, secure and a hygienic cinema-going experience for the movie lovers of our country, as always, we would continue to assign topmost priority to the health and well-being of our guests and employees. An urgent permission from the state governments to reopen cinemas in their states would go a substantial distance in ensuring that the cinema exhibition sector is able to quickly recover from the dire economic and financial impact of the epidemic. We look forward to welcoming back moviegoers to a safe and an amazing brand new experience at our cinemas.”
P.V. Sunil, managing director of Carnival Cinemas said, “We are very happy with this news as we have been waiting for this for quite some time. Business has been affected so badly but I would say, this is the right time to open up with Diwali around the corner. 50 per cent capacity is better than what we had thought would be allowed earlier. In fact, we had been proposing a 50 per cent capacity. It is in keeping up with the norm of every other industry. Most of the countries are also following the same norm. As of now, our software is being modified in accordance with that so that the audience have a seamless experience while booking tickets online.
“Overall, it is very good news. However, for us to open up, there is a lot of work to be done. The good part is that separate teams handle each property and we also have two weeks, it seems sufficient time for us to prepare. As it is, we have planned for the reopening all this while, so there shouldn’t be a problem. While a couple of state governments are yet to give a go-ahead on the reopening of theatres, we are likely to open all the major properties in other states in the stipulated time. On the content side, the producers are already having conversations about releasing the films. We have limited time slots, so the content shouldn’t be a problem. In the first few weeks, there may not be an overflow of content but things would resume to normalcy soon.”