Wait gets longer for single-screen cinemas to resume shows

Despite the Union Ministry of Home Affairs easing curbs on the capacity of audience in cinemas, with continuous drop in COVID-19 cases in the country, film exhibitors are not prepared to reopen single-screen theatres as they await clear guidelines from the government on seating capacity and the revised SOP.

This means, the wait for film enthusiasts has become longer as the exhibitors want to assess the situation before throwing open theatres after nearly 10 months.

With most exhibitors suffering losses and unable to face further loss by running shows for a smaller audience, a clear picture on the reopening of theatres would emerge once the guidelines are out, mostly by February 1. Until then, many exhibitors have decided to wait and watch.

Moreover, the exhibitors’ revenue-sharing talks with film producers have remained inconclusive despite over five rounds of meeting. In the wake of COVID-19, financial stability of many theatres has become weak and they are in no position to screen films based on the prevailing revenue-sharing model.

‘Not specified’

M.R. Rajaram, secretary, Mysuru Film Exhibitors’ Association, who is also vice-president of the Karnataka Film Exhibitors’ Federation, told The Hindu that the audience capacity had been allowed to increase but the number has not been specified. “Moreover, we don’t know what is the revised SOP that will accompany the revised guidelines. Until we assess and work out the costs, we cannot say anything at this stage on the reopening. The overheads will go up for us for maintaining the SOP and we have to study the revenue we are going to get after taking all measures for screening films,” he explained.

Barring a few, mostly in Bengaluru, nearly 90% of single-screen theatres continue to remain shut and are awaiting further relaxation of curbs.

As of now, only 50% of the seating capacity is allowed to be filled and many exhibitors have decided not to reopen since it is unviable to run the show. Moreover, there have been no big releases, with producers and distributors also awaiting further relaxation of curbs to get suitable returns for their investment on film-making.

Mr. Rajaram said producers were planning release of films with big stars in the second or third week of February. Besides, there are still certain issues that need to be addressed by the government and local bodies before the theatres become fully functional post-COVID-19.

Collection sharing

In the current scenario, single-screen exhibitors are not ready to pay fixed charges for screening films to producers unlike the past. While the weekly collections are shared in percentage terms for multiplexes, it is fixed charges for single-screen theatres irrespective of the weekly collections.

Mr. Rajaram said the collections are shared in percentage terms in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, leading to an increase in the number of single screens in those States. But in the State, single-screen theatres are shutting down unable to bear losses.

“We want to establish a win-win situation for producers and exhibitors. Nobody should suffer losses. In this connection, talks are on with producers as the State exhibitors want producers to charge them on percentage terms,” he said.

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