A majority of theatre owners in Tamil Nadu are expected to allow full occupancy in cinema halls from Pongal adhering to the Standard Operating Procedure laid down by the government. Some of them said they would restrict it to 70%-80%.
“We don’t want to take chances [in view of COVID-19 spread]. We will sell only 70% of our tickets,” said a theatre owner in Chennai. “Fans who walk in shout, laugh and they breathe in and out. Considering all these factors we want to be cautious. Like hotels, we don’t want to see another COVID-19 cluster here. And if anything goes wrong then all theatres would be under the scanner necessarily,” he said.
Even now, almost 400 theatres have not resumed operations and are in a wait and watch mode. Those who are already operating are yet to bring back their entire workforce.
But big screens and multiplexes prefer full occupancy. “Even if [actor Vijay’s] Master is released, we will get crowds for the first four days and maybe the weekends. Post that, the occupancy will hover between 60%-70% so we don’t see much trouble coming in,” said the proprietor of a theatre near Chengalpattu.
Udeep B., managing director of Mayajaal, said, “The exhibition industry has been through a very difficult period for the last 10 months and we were the first to close and last to open.” He expressed the confidence that in three to six months, like all other sectors of the economy, the film exhibition sector will also bounce back.
GK Cinema’s managing partner Ruban Mathivanan said his theatre would go for 100% occupancy. Currently, there are good footfalls for old movies at his theatre. “We are screening Aayirathil Oruvan and even with 50% occupancy, we are seeing an average of 80% footfalls,” he said.
‘No dearth of films’
R. Paneerselvam, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors Association, said that counters at his theatres would sell 100% of the seats. With the government increasing the occupancy to 100%, more films would now start coming in. “There is no dearth of films in the Tamil industry,” he said, adding there were several big and small films waiting for release.
A litmus test
A theatre owner in Madurai said that the Pongal releases would be a litmus test. “One-third of movie goers will stay away from visiting the theatres. We expect the fans to come on day one. We highly doubt that families would come and take a risk. We need to wait and watch,” he added.
Tamil Nadu has 1,213 screens, with over 6.36 lakh seats.
According to estimates, a one-day closure of all theatres in the State would lead to an average loss of ₹8 crore.