Cinema hall owners are asking the central government to allow them operate at 50 per cent occupancy, as anything below that will not be economically viable and, therefore, they won’t be able to resume operations.
This comes in response to discussions that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had with single-screen and multiplex owners, where it hinted that that it might consider a staggered opening of movie halls, but with a 25 per cent cap on capacity.
The government is preparing new guidelines for further relaxation of restrictions from August 1. A 25 per cent cap means that every alternate seat in a row has to remain empty, apart from the entire front and back rows.
Companies say that unlike in the US and other countries, in India the high cost of rentals and lower ticket price (around Rs 150-250) makes it unviable to run an operation without half the seats available for sale.
The lockdown has impacted the 10,000-odd screens (of which 2,800 are in multiplexes). From a gross revenue of Rs 11,500 crore in 2019 at the box office, this financial year has been a complete washout so far. The industry supports over 200,000 workers, many of whom have lost jobs.
“If in airlines, where average journeys are of two hours, the middle seat has not been kept vacant or even on international flights, it defies logic why we are being asked to keep front and back rows empty, plus every alternate seat,” says a senior executive of a multiplex company. One proposal is to have a seating arrangement resembling a chessboard, which will ensure 50-50 distribution. However, sources said the discussions between screen owners and the government were ongoing and a final call will be taken soon.
Multiplex owners have already prepared a detailed standard opening procedure if permission is given to open operations. These include sanitization of the hall before and after the show, row-wise exit of customers, staggered show timings, when there is more than one screen, no paper tickets, compulsory download of the Aarogya Setu app amongst others. The opening up of cinema halls is also crucial for production houses that are waiting to release their films, which have been stuck for a while.