Just as the film industry and audiences began to enjoy a return to normalcy, they hit another speed bump. The decision of the Delhi state government to close theaters and cinemas due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases brings back memories of the closures induced by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
The first casualty of the move was the Shahid Kapoor-directed film Jersey, which was set to hit theaters on December 31. The directors have decided to postpone the film’s release indefinitely due to the growing threat of the omicron variant.
The producers sent a message confirming the decision: “Considering the current circumstances and the new COVID guidelines, we have decided to postpone the theatrical release of our film Jersey. We have received immense love from all of you so far and all want to thank you for everything. Until then everyone stay safe and healthy, and wish you all the best for the coming new year !! team jersey! (sic) ‘
The decision is not surprising, but it is certainly a source of concern for distributors and exhibitors who are only beginning to see their businesses fall back into a semblance of normalcy.
Abrar Memon, a distributor and exhibitor from the Pune region of Maharashtra, said: “There is a bit of concern. We are all worried. The Delhi lockdown sent the wrong message to all state governments. We are discussing it within our fellowship. There are election rallies in several states, but theaters are the first to close. It is unfair to our industry. “
Responding to the decision of the Delhi government, Kamal Gianchandani, president of the Multiplex Association of India, said in a statement: “The decision of the Delhi government to shut down cinemas while implementing the ‘yellow’ alert of the plan. response action uncertainty and could cause irreparable damage to the Indian film industry. The period since March 2020 is undeniably the most difficult that Indian cinemas have faced in their long history.
Referring to the Maharashtra government directive to only allow vaccinated people to enter theaters and follow strict physical distancing and disinfection protocols, Gianchandani said, “Instead of shutting down theaters, we urge the government of Delhi to consider introducing a “double vaccination requirement” to enter theaters, as is the case in other states (including Maharashtra). Alternatively, the 50% restriction on the number of seats can be reintroduced. We call on the government to recognize the unique social, cultural and economic value of the Indian film industry and provide the support it desperately needs to survive this unprecedented time. “
Business analyst Atul Mohan agreed that Delhi’s move could push other states to follow suit. He said: “With Delhi shut down, in a few days maybe a few more states will follow. It will definitely happen. Every time a state announces it sets off a chain reaction. They seem to think that movie theaters are the most dangerous places. “
For now, cinemas in Maharashtra continue to operate at 50% occupancy, with only fully vaccinated viewers allowed in.
Manoj Desai, executive director of Gaiety Galaxy Cinemas, told Cinestaan.com that Delhi’s move has set the industry back. “83 didn’t do as well as expected,” Desai said. “Pushpa: The Rise is doing much better. But the Delhi closure is problematic. This means that Jersey has now been postponed. The side effects are slowly starting to be felt, but the rest we will find out in the evening if the Minister chief of Maharashtra makes any decision. “
Already, restricting people meeting after 9 p.m. in Maharashtra could result in a limitation on the number of shows. The most worrying aspect is the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Mumbai and Maharashtra. To date (December 29), the state has reported more than 2,000 new cases, including 161 of the omicron variant. There were 22 deaths.
For the cinema industry, the government’s decision to crack down on cinemas while leaving room for restaurants and shopping centers seems unfair. Delhi, for example, continues to allow the odd functioning of stores in malls and markets.
Atul Mohan said: “There is also a psychological effect. The government’s first decision is to shut down movie theaters. It makes the public and the common man think this is a dangerous place. It’s a psychological fear. Now, regaining those steps will be difficult. “
Pune Memon exhibitor and Mumbai exhibitor Desai pointed out that such decisions also have economic repercussions. With overheads, electricity charges and personnel to pay, movie theater owners and distributors can barely afford to close the shutters after two years of intermittent work. Memon pointed out that several single-screen theaters have already closed permanently, while a number of employees have moved to other professions.
“We are unlikely to have qualified staff again,” he said. “They won’t want to come back to work for the cinema anymore because they never had any support.”
The effect on the box office is more tangible. Kabir Khan’s 83 had a disappointing opening with Rs57 crore nett collected in the first five days. The film’s collections are shrinking every day, with Tuesday registering just Rs6 crore.
According to shopping website BoxOfficeIndia.com, in the absence of the Delhi area, collections could drop another 10%. This means the film will struggle to hit Rs70 crore which is important for a project with such a huge budget. With a production cost of around Rs200 crore, 83 may well be struggling to break even.
In contrast, Pushpa: The Rise and Spiderman: No Way Home did some good business, with the latter gradually heading towards a collection of Rs200 crore nett. The film Allu Arjun has already earned almost Rs40 crore in the Hindi belt, exceeding all expectations.
Atul Mohan said: “Things were looking up. Sooryavanshi earned Rs 200 crore. Spiderman made Rs 179 crore. Pushpa, unexpectedly, had done well in the Hindi belt. He earned almost Rs 40 crore. Rs. That’s the combined average revenue of movies like Satyameva Jayate 2 (2021), Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021) and Antim: The Final Truth (2021). It’s exceptional. “
Still, the decision to pull Jersey, just four days before its scheduled release, has bigger implications. “When a great movie like this makes such a decision, others start to think along the same lines, to reconsider. Then it becomes a game of waiting,” said Atul Mohan.
The postponement could trigger a domino effect that could spill over into next year’s release schedule. With producers and filmmakers keen to avoid direct clashes, the release dates of a few films are bound to be rescheduled based on Jersey’s revised schedule.
Memon agreed, “This decision will certainly affect releases in January. RRR and Prithviraj (2022) are two big films scheduled for January. If the Delhi government does not reverse its decision, there will be further postponements.”
So far, SS filmmaker Rajamouli has confirmed that RRR will be released as scheduled on January 7th. This could be because the film’s primary demographic target is the South. Despite the presence of Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt, the film is a flagship enterprise of Rajamouli with NTR Jr and Ram Charan in the lead.
The biggest worry is whether other states will follow Delhi’s lead. If that were to happen. the cinema is in danger of collapsing again. For an industry in desperate need of a reprieve, this sounds like déjà vu.