India’s Cinemas Bank On The South To Kick-Start Recovery
An employee wears a protective mask and face shield while standing at a food counter in the PVR Icon cinema at the DLF Promenade Mall in New Delhi. (Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg)

India’s Cinemas Bank On The South To Kick-Start Recovery

Looking to win back viewers addicted to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video during the pandemic as cinemas were shut, India’s multiplexes and single-screen theatres are banking on south-Indian movie releases to kick-start a meaningful recovery.

“It’s regional films, Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, that are making big money post lockdown. For such movies, their respective state collections are very high compared with Bollywood or Hollywood where entire India box office collections make a difference," said Kunal Sawhney, senior vice president of operations at Carnival Cinemas, the operator of 450 screens covering more than 100 cities across 20 states.

“Regional movies have proved that if there is fresh content, patrons will come back to cinemas and it gives confidence to Bollywood,” he told BloombergQuint. "With ‘Master’ releasing in Hindi - it will be a big example for forthcoming releases.”

Telugu movies ‘Krack’, ‘Red’ and ‘Alludu Adhurs’ and the Tamil flick ‘Master’ are ready for release during the Makara Sankranti/Pongal festival weekend (Jan. 14-17), according to BookMyShow.com’s website. The movies have generated much interest prior to their release.

The teaser of the much-delayed ‘Master’, starring Tamil superstar Vijay, Vijay Sethupathi and Malavika Mohanan, has clocked 51 million views on YouTube in under two months, while ‘Krack’, with Ravi Teja and Shruti Haasan in the lead, has registered around 11 million views till date.

Cinemas in India, the world’s most prolific movie producer, remained shut for more than six months because of Covid-19 restrictions before they were allowed to reopen with half the capacity. Yet, only around 3,200 screens of the 8,000-odd screens across India have resumed business, according to a trade executive who didn't want to be identified out of business concerns. In the absence of new content, the person said, screens want to avoid bleeding on operating expenses.

At least two new Tamil and Hindi movies each and one Kannada film have released in the theatres since lockdown restrictions were lifted, according to details on BookMyShow’s website. Cinemas have sold 7 lakh tickets between Oct. 15 and Dec. 15, it said.

Yet, response for Bollywood movies was tepid, while the south Indian movies fared better. ‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’ collected around Rs 2.3 crore in the first week and ‘Indoo Ki Jawani’ collected Rs 1.52 crore worldwide, according to data by Bollywood Hungama. By comparison, according to the movie tracker South FDFS, ‘Biskoth’ earned Rs 5.5 crore worldwide. (Data has been compiled from multiple sources since there is no single dedicated platform for box office collections across regions.)

Movie halls have had some help from two Hollywood releases in December—Christopher Nolan-directed ‘Tenet’ and the Gal Gadot-starrer ‘Wonder Woman 1984’.

‘Tenet’ collected around Rs 4.25 crore in its opening weekend and surpassed the Rs 8-crore mark in 10 days, according to a Forbes Report. “With BookMyShow contributing more than 50% to Tenet’s overall box office collection in the country, the film’s reception has set a positive tone for the releases to follow,” Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer of cinemas at BookMyShow, told BloombergQuint. For ‘Wonder Woman 1984’, according to Box Office India, the figure stood at Rs 8 crore over its extended first weekend till Dec. 28.

Movie poster of Master. (Source: Twitter, @XBFilmCreators)
Movie poster of Master. (Source: Twitter, @XBFilmCreators)

“There are expectations that 'Master' will also release during Pongal simultaneously,” Saksena said. “Hollywood release dates will also start getting firmed up based on Wonder Woman 1984’s performance, making the film a key strategic release for India.”

Movie poster of Krack. (Source: Twitter, @RaviTeja_offl)
Movie poster of Krack. (Source: Twitter, @RaviTeja_offl)

According to India’s two largest multiplex chains PVR Ltd. and Inox Leisure Ltd., they have witnessed bookings to the 50% capacity limit for multiple shows in various states.

Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Delhi-NCR and Uttar Pradesh accounted for 88% of online ticket sales in November, the executive quoted earlier said. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi-NCR and West Bengal accounted for 92% of the online ticket sales in December.

The revival of theatres in northern India, however, depends on Bollywood releases. The executive said there’s no confirmation yet on the release dates of 2020 spillovers—Reliance Entertainment’s ‘Suryavanshi’, an action thriller starring Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh; and ’83, based on Kapil Dev-led India’s triumph at the 1983 Cricket World Cup.

Reliance Entertainment and Yashraj Films are yet to respond to BloombergQuint’s emailed queries.

Movie poster of 83. (Source: Twitter, @83thefilm)
Movie poster of 83. (Source: Twitter, @83thefilm)

Yashraj Studios has lined up ‘Jayeshbhai Jordaar’, ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ and ‘Bunty Aur Babli 2’ in January and February, but there has been no confirmation on release dates yet.

Multiplex operators hope to sustain the momentum that ‘Tenet’ initiated. PVR Cinemas has high expectations to make a “full and complete return” in the coming weeks, it said in an emailed response to BloombergQuint.

Inox Leisure is expecting a steady flow of fresh content after three to four weeks and expects a strong recovery in February. PVR said it has already started witnessing “great footfalls” and hopes this only increases in the coming days.

But occupancy will be a problem, according to the executive cited earlier. Occupancy levels in theatres before Covid were at 30-50% during weekdays and over 70% during weekends. This seems to have evened out post-Covid as capacity is lower and people working from home have shifted weekend viewing to weekdays, said the executive.

Recent attempts by southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala to allow 100% occupancy in theatres faced objections from the Union Home Ministry.

BookMyShow, however, foresees business picking up the pace by mid-January as more films get announced. Still, it expects a steady recovery cycle only by April—as new content starts feeding theatres, helping them remain open and work at pre-Covid capacity.

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