For single-screen theatres, it’s still a ‘no show’

Many small cinema halls in Delhi have their shutters down despite the govt. allowing them to reopen

A deserted porch and iron shutters over the main gate is a common sight at most single-screen theatres in the city.

The halls shut down on March 13, 2020, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and most of them are still closed despite the Delhi government allowing them to reopen.

Theatres were among the worst-hit in the entertainment sector during the lockdown, and occupancy restrictions still make doing business tough, especially for single-screen theatres. Many employees of small halls have had their salaries halved.

Fifty-year-old Vijay Singh, who has been working as a ticket-booking clerk at Gagan Cinema in Nand Nagri for the last 36 years, misses the time before the pandemic. “The hall would be full if a Salman Khan movie was playing. You would find as many people outside the hall as inside… but now, we sit idle all day, taking a stroll or basking in the sun,” he says.

“I used to earn ₹16,000 a month before the outbreak. After the hall shut, the salaries of all employees were halved. But we are all grateful to the owner of the cinema hall for continuing to give us a pay cheque,” says Mr. Singh.

Salary cut

The salary cut has forced Mr. Singh and his family to reduce their expenses. “I have two sons and a daughter. My oldest son is married and lives with us. Earlier, we used to get three litres of milk every day, now we make do with 1.5 litres. Each of us used to have four cups of tea daily, now we have just two. This is the practical cost of the situation,” he says.

Mr. Singh has had to prolong his daughter’s wedding celebrations as well. “We fixed the marriage of my daughter 10 days ago but we will organise the functions a year from now when our financial condition is better,” he says.

Even though the cinema hall is closed, Mr. Singh makes the two-minute walk to the theatre daily. “My daughter-in-law is at home. It doesn’t look nice if I idle away at home, so, I come in [to the theatre] at 10 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m.”

Ramashish Yadav, 43, who has been working as a security guard at west Delhi’s Milan Cinema for the past nine years, is living in a makeshift accommodation under the stairs leading to the hall.

His utensils and groceries are kept on the stairs and he prepares his meals on a stove near his bed.

Mr. Yadav, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, used to earn ₹10,000 a month before the outbreak, but now gets about ₹7,000. He is barely able to make ends meet as he sends most of the money back home to his wife and children. “The employees are all old. They will not be able to get a job anywhere else,” he says. It is a fear Mr. Singh shares.

In north Delhi’s Amba, a theatre that used to be popular with college students, cinema manager Virender Antin, 35, surfs the Internet on his phone while sitting outside the entrance of the hall. He comes 15 days a month and gets ₹8,500. Earlier, he used to get ₹18,000 a month.

Life has become tough, says the father of two school-going children. “My kids have to attend online classes. I had to buy a smartphone for them and took a loan from my parents,” he says, adding that school fees is a major expense for them now.

“I live in Bawana and used to take the scooter to work, spending ₹150 on petrol every day. Now, I take the bus. It takes me two and a half hours one way and ₹15 a day. I have no other option,” he says, adding that he has had to take money from family and friends to manage his household.

No new release

“The government has allowed reopening of theatres but no new films are releasing. The multiplexes may be able to manage even if a few people show up at every screen. We have only one screen and only two-three people turned up, but it stills costs us electricity and full staff attendance is needed,” he says.

At Ritz Cinema in Kashmere Gate, peon Jaiveer, 49, says: “Poore din baithe rehte hain… man hi nahi lagta [I keep sitting idle all day… there’s no fun in that]. He is somehow managing the household with his curtailed salary. His two sons, one in Class 12 and another in first year of college, have deferred their education to find jobs and help their parents.

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