By Shadan Muneer
The cameras haven’t rolled in sometime, the lights have been dimmed, there is only the sound of the silence at the movie halls and no action for the audience. The intermission at cinemas in real life has been on for the last seven months and recently, the Government has issued guidelines for the reopening of cinema halls and multiplexes from Oct. 15. The initial opening will be with 50% seating capacity and with strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that need to be followed. So what changes for the cinema-goer?
Operating with 50% capacity will also require adequate physical distancing while being seated, which means every alternate seat will have to be kept vacant and the seats that are not to be occupied will be marked, hand-wash facilities and sanitisers will have to be provided. While the Box Office counters will remain open, contact-less and digital modes would be encouraged with regard to the ticketing, payments and even for purchase of food and beverages.
Cinema halls will now have staggered show timings to avoid crowd build up; there will also be staggered entry and exit to avoid overcrowding. Announcement on the safety measures to be followed will be made during intermission and the guests will be constantly monitored and advised to avoid unnecessary movements.
Proper ventilation and air condition settings will have to be taken care of, fumigation and sanitisation will be carried out after every show. Only packed food and beverages will be sold.
All the cinema-goers will have to mandatorily wear masks, maintain physical distancing and undergo temperature checks before the entry. Contact numbers will also be taken to facilitate contact tracing later if required.
While the Multiplex owners are looking at the re-opening as a positive and welcome sign, the single screen theatre owners are not thrilled with the idea of opening up as they will find it difficult to run the show with the new SOPs which require additional expenditure that they cannot afford.
Star of Mysore caught up with the cinema owners to find out about the preparations, challenges and expectations.
INOX Leisure Limited
Alok Tandon, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of INOX Leisure Limited, says: “We are completely geared up and prepared for the new normal which would assign top most priority to safety and hygiene. 50% seating is an optimistic beginning as we believe that the large part of working population is working remotely so the demand for the cinema will be equally distributed and we can expect crowd on all seven days unlike pre-COVID time where we would have 90% occupancy on the weekends and around 30% occupancy on the weekdays. For the immediate content screening purposes, we will rely on the library content and old blockbusters for a couple of weeks.”
“We are also looking to innovate with private screening where families or small group of guests can book the entire auditorium and watch the movie of their choice. We will ensure that the cinema-viewing experience is safe as the SOPs will take care of the possible touch points, they will be extensive sanitisation drills and disinfection process at the right places. We will go with the e-tickets and the F&B menu will also be provided digitally. Wearing mask and temperature checks will be mandatory for all our guests,” quotes the CEO.
To begin with, INOX will be screening Shivaji Surathkal, Love Mocktail, Shivarjuna, Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal tomorrow. However, a final decision will be taken in today’s meeting.
The good news for the cinema-lovers is that there are a lot of blockbusters like KGF 2, RRR, Sooryavanshi, 83, among others that are in the pipeline which will be released in the near future.
Pramod Arora, Chief Growth and Strategy Officer, PVR Limited, says: “With the Government giving diktat of 50% occupancy, which we believe is the right call as of now, we are looking forward to build trust amongst the consumers who come to the cinemas. It is going to be a slow and steady rise in the number of people coming to the cinemas once they gain confidence. We will open up with limited content and re-release some of the films initially and bring in the larger content as people get used to coming to the cinemas.”
“Masks, sanitisers, physical distancing and temperature checks will now be part of the cinema experience. We will deploy a lot of other measures apart from the SOPs; washrooms will be working on a certain capacity, we will introduce human touch-free food amongst others to ensure utmost safety of our consumers,” he quoted.
PVR Cinemas in city will open their screening by next week.
Vaishali Hanumanth, Managing Partner of DRC Cinemas, says: “We are thrilled to welcome audience back to the big screens and entertain them. In this new era of new normal, reopening of cinemas is a positive sign but screening of new releases will take some time. For the immediate screening purpose, we will be playing the old blockbusters of Kannada and other regional languages which includes Love Mocktail, Shivarjuna among others. From bollywood, we are trying to get Dil Bechara and Angrezi Medium to screen as a tribute to the late actors Sushant Singh Rajput and Irrfan Khan. We are hopeful that people will come and the footfalls will increase gradually.”
She further says, “health and well-being of our guests and employees will be our top priority. We have implemented all the safety protocols in line, we have the PPE kits in store and installed large LED screens to monitor the crowd. Wearing a mask, temperature screening, physical distancing will be the new normal. Cleaning by the iRobots will be a regular process. We will encourage digital ticketing and the refreshments will be sold while being wrapped hygienically.”
The Managing Partner also says that they have been conducting health check-up camps for their employees who have also been given ample training regarding the SOPs.
DRC CINEMAS TODAY’S SCHEDULE
Love Mocktail (K) (S-3) 11.30 am
(S-2) 1.15 pm
Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal (Ta) (S-2) 4.40 pm
Shivaji Surathkal (K) (S-3) 8.00 pm
Shivarjuna (K) (S-4) 1.40 pm
Khaali Peeli (H) (S-4) 10.55 am
4.55 pm, 8.30 pm
NOTE: The other multiplexes and single screen theatres are yet to open.
Single Screen Theatres
Explaining the challenges and problems faced by the single screen owners, M.R. Rajaram, owner of Gayathri Talkies and Vice-President of Karnataka Film Exhibitors Federation, says: “It will be difficult for the single screen owners to manage and maintain the prescribed hygienic protocols issued by the Government. The SOPs will require an additional monthly expenditure of Rs. 80,000 – Rs. 1 lakh, which the theatre owners cannot afford. It will not be viable for us to open theatres now; moreover as there are no new releases or big budget movies, producers are hesitant to release their films. Having fresh content is unlikely at least for now. It might take a while before the audience get to see a new release plus we have no idea as to how the public would respond to the reopening of the cinemas in the wake of Coronavirus.”
He further adds, “theatres have been the first ones to shut and the last to reopen as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. We are badly hit with the burden of problems lying on us from the past several years. The pandemic has escalated and multiplied the problems by 10 folds. Paying property tax, electricity bills, wages to employees is difficult in the current market situation.”
He also urges to the Government to favourably answer and resolve their issues pertaining to property tax and licence renewal fees among others.
Siddaraju, the Manager of Sterling Theatre, says: “even though the Government has given a green signal for the theatres to re-open, all the single screen theatres, including us, will take a while to start playing movies as there are a host of issues that we are facing. We are already burdened with the COVID-impacted lockdown and with the new mandatory SOPs, it is difficult to function. Moreover, there are no movies currently ready to release with us. We will wait and go by what our Association decides.”
While the theatres have remained shut since March due to the pandemic, audience found entertainment on the OTT platforms as many films were directly released on the digital medium. Now, are the audience ready to start going to cinemas?
“I am a bit apprehensive about visiting a cinema hall as of now because of the pandemic. Being a huge movie buff, I do miss the large screen experience but i would like to wait for the feedback from others and then decide on when to start. I have watched a lot of movies during the lockdown on the streaming services available on the phone but the joy of watching films on the big screen can’t be replaced. From the front row seat of the single screen theatre to the luxury seating at the Multiplexes, the laughing, the crying, the clapping, I have experienced it all. I am looking forward for the things to get normal soon and get back to the big screen experience,” says Md. Yazdaan Khan, a young and successful businessman from Habib Industries.
“It is a strain on the livelihood of artistes, co-workers and the entire industry. It is a good step to re-open the theatres, we need to start somewhere and adapt to the new normal. If there is a big release, I dont mind going to the cinema hall to catch a movie for some entertainment and relaxation but with all the safety precautions. I eagerly wait to watch the superstar blockbusters specially during the festive seasons but we have missed all of that this year around. My mother, who is also a cinema-lover, may take a while to get used to going to the cinema and feel safe inside an enclosed space,” says Sahana, a working woman.
Blockbuster or not, once the screens open, the show must go on will be the mantra. Happy viewing.