When Tamil film star Vijay was insistent that his film Master release only in theatres for Makar Sankranti this year, many were sceptical as to whether audiences would flock to theatres. This was the biggest film to release in the Indian film industry post the pandemic and given the 50% occupancy rule still in place in theatres, there was apprehension that distributors may face losses. However, Vijay’s conviction and the success of the movie proved them wrong. The Lokesh Kanagaraj-directed movie was a hit and even though it released on Amazon Prime on January 29, the movie reportedly collected over Rs 200 crore at the box office.
As well known, the pandemic has severely affected the entertainment business not just in India but globally resulting in losses to the tune of billions of dollars. In October 2020, the government of India finally allowed theatres in the country to open with 50% occupancy and stringent operation guidelines. On February 1, 2021, 100% occupancy was allowed but the onus on implementing this was left to the individual states depending on the number of Covid cases. The release of Vijay’s Master and the success it has seen, has invigorated the film business. However, not all states have declared 100% occupancy in theatres and that’s wherein the issue especially for the release of Bollywood films lies. Producers are hoping the situation to turn by April and are slotting films for theatrical release accordingly. For instance, Yash Raj Films (YRF) has lined up Saif Ali Khan’s Bunty Aur Babli 2 for April, Ranbir Kapoor’s Shamshera for June, Ranveer Singh’s Jayeshbhai Jordaar for August, and Akshay Kumar’s Prithviraj for November.
“Audiences will not be back to the theatres unless big spectacle films are released in theatres. As you have noticed in last few days several films have been announced ….and we hope after the next few months the audience will be back in theatres,” says Shibasish Sarkar l, CEO, Reliance Entertainment and producer of 83. Ranveer Singh’s 83 is set to hit screens on June 4th, in Hindi, Telugu Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.
Explains Kunal Sawhney, SVP, Operations, and F&B, Carnival Cinemas, “Not all the states have declared 100% occupancy; in fact, states that contribute a higher percentage of collection to the box office are still at 50%. We have seen good footfalls in West Bengal over the weekend with 100% occupancy, the same will happen at Tamil Nadu. It’s been proved in the past couple of months that once there is good content to consume, people come for it. So the need of the hour is that more studios and producers should come up with their upcoming film slates like YRF just announced in coming weeks for the rest of the year to regenerate the feeling of normalcy post the lockdown.”
In 2020, numerous Hindi films, like Gulabo Sitabo, Laxmii, Gunjan Saxena, and Coolie No 1, opted for a direct digital release premiering on OTT platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix India, and Disney Hotstar. And as of now, this trend seems to be continuing especially where south films are concerned given that Mohanlal’s Drishyam 2 just released on Amazon Prime and Dhanush’s Jagame Thandhiram is set to premiere on Netflix. Exhibitors though are confident that this trend will change in the coming months.
Ashish Saksena, COO – Cinemas, BookMyShow, states that “As cinemas and production houses now await relaxation from respective state governments to be able to roll out this move which will be critical for major cinema markets like Maharashtra, the announcement for big-budget films will likely have to wait further. Once all states ease occupancy restrictions, it will pave the way for new releases to start hitting cinemas one after the other. This will especially be key for big-budget Hindi films that have been waiting to entertain audiences for a long time now and hence delaying their theatrical releases. In the last few months, we have seen the potential that new films hold to draw audiences to the theatres in massive numbers. As more and more new films make their way to the silver screen gradually but in a sustained manner, we are hopeful that the situation will start improving and expect a steady recovery cycle, April onwards.”
Eros Motion Pictures’ first big release of the year is Rana Daggubati’s Haathi Mere Saathi (Hindi), Kaadan (Tamil), Aranya (Telugu) which have been slated for release at the end of March. Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO – India, Eros STX Global Corporation says, “Theatres have long been the launch platforms for big films and provide a unique setting to experience the content. Theatres and multiplexes are now abiding by the SOPs issued by the government and taking many more confidence-building measures. We certainly hope to see more people stepping into theatres soon. The upcoming movie lineup is certainly very promising and big blockbusters will entice movie buffs to enjoy films in theatres. Movie marketing using digital promotion techniques like social media, influencer marketing, etc. ahead of film releases will play a pivotal role in increasing footfalls. We believe that significant growth will be seen during the festive season which will be big for films this year.”