No close encounters as cinemas open after six-month lockdown

Letter from New Delhi

By Kul Bhushan

After a long agonizing gap of six-month lockdown due to Wuhan Virus, cinemas in Delhi and Mumbai are opening on 15 October. The owners have run up massive losses by now and hope to start recovering them gradually.

However, there are plenty of restrictions on the cinemas once they open. For a start, only half of the seats can be sold, thanks to social distancing. Alternate seats will be left vacant. For the cinema goers, it means that you cannot sit next to your girlfriend and when an action scene shakes the hall, she will not be able to sink her nails in your arm!

Moreover, you cannot coochy-coochy when a strong romantic scene is played out with serenading music in the background. How the courting couples overcome these barriers remains to be worked out. This is a reminder of a satirical notice outside a closed movie theatre: No Close Encounters of Any Kind.

Plus, other operating measures include:

  • Only asymptomatic persons allowed in theatres.
  • Advance booking with digital payments, if possible
  • Only packaged food and beverages allowed inside the theatres.
  • Delivery of food and beverages inside the theatre not allowed.
  • Staggered show timings.
  • Sufficient time lag between successive shows in a multiplex.
  • Queue markers for entry and exit into the theatre for social distancing.
  • Entry and exit to be done in a staggered row-wise manner.
  • Theatres shall be sanitized after every screening.
  • Management shall prevent crowding and physical distancing in food and beverages areas.
  • It also means it will be much longer for the owners to recoup their losses.

Phew! All this is going to make it a totally different experience of going to the cinema! It will soon become the new normal, just like everything else. Yet the cinema addicts will swarm to the theatres to relish their long-lost experience of the big screen. And it will be much longer for the owners to recoup their losses.

However, opening the threatens in shopping malls means much higher footfalls and higher income for food courts and many cinemagoers go for a meal or a snack after the show is over. And they may also end up buying some products too.

But hold on! There are no big blockbusters to draw the crowds! With many Bollywood films going for a direct-to-digital release, theatre owners are left with little fresh content over the next couple of months (which includes the high spending Diwali season) until the films under production are completed. Fearing low audience turnout, some cinemas may open later than mid-October.

Bollywood has these films lined up for the next few months: Khaali Peeli, Bunty aur Babli, Indoo ki Jawani, Chhalang, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar and Roohi Afzana. Any of these could be a hit with the audiences and end up as a blockbuster. But the expected blockbusters or big-ticket movies are: Sardar Udham Singh, Sooryavanshi with Akshya Kumar and Katrina Kaif; Lal Singh Chadda, Amir Khan’s remake of Forrest Gump; and 83 sagas of India winning the cricket World Cup which will release during Diwali and Christmas/new year.

Hollywood has lined up these potboilers: Tenet, Peter Rabbit, My Spy, The Rental, Force of Nature, Dune, Death on The Nile. The much-awaited James Bond movie, No Time to Die with Daniel Craig’s fifth and final stint as 007 was scheduled for release for the festive season but has been delayed until April 2021. Batman and Jurassic World: Domination have also been postponed. Jurassic World will now debut on 10 June 2022! Yes, that much waiting! Batman will hit the screens on 1 October 2021, a year from now. Shazam! Fury of the Gods has been pushed back to 4 November 2023. The Flash due for June 2022 will now be released on 4 November 2022. Wonder Woman1984 is still, thankfully, hoping for 25 December 2020 opening.

In early October, the second-largest movie theater chain in the US temporarily shuttered its locations due to a lack of blockbusters on the calendar and major domestic markets like New York remaining closed. Cineworld Group Plc said that it would close 536 Regal cinemas in the US, and 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse venues in the UK this week, affecting some 45,000 employees.

Yet moviegoers are eager to flock to the theaters as they are fed up with home screens. No wonder, a crazy fan hung a sign outside his house: ‘I’ve watched all Netflix’. Not to be outdone, another boasted: ‘I’ve watched all You Tube videos!’

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

* Published in print edition on 13 October 2020 

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