Multiplex operators are still awaiting nod from many state governments to resume operations even though the Centre has already issued guidelines with regard to reopening of cinemas and theatres. Multiplexes, cinema halls and theatres have been allowed to reopen from October 15, with up to 50 per cent of their seating capacity. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been issued by the central government.
Though the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has given its go-ahead to resuming cinema and theatre activities under Unlock 5.0, it has left for the states to take a final call in this regard. Multiplex chains including PVR, Inox, Cinepolis and Mukta A2 Cinemas are all set to re-open their cinema halls from October 15 with half of their seating capacity while ensuring contactless operations and maintaining social distancing norms. These operators have lined up "promising contents" to entertain the audiences in the coming months.
Leading multiplex operator PVR, which operates 875 screens in 22 states, would be able to open only 496 screens as only 14 state governments have granted permission to re-open its multiplexes, according to its CEO Gautam Dutta. The company is yet to receive any direction from the state government of Maharashtra, where it operates the highest number of screens.
"Maharashtra is an extremely important market for us, occupying the largest percentage of our screen share," he said. Mexican movie theatre chain Cinepolis said the company is fully ready and would abide by the directions issued by the government.
"We welcome the move from the central government. Almost 75 per cent screen of the 350 screens, which we operate in India would be open. We are requesting the other state governments to allow us to open the balance screens as soon as possible," Cinepolis India Chief Executive Officer Devang Sampat said. Subhash Ghai's film production company Mukta Arts, which runs multiplex chain under the brand name 'Mukta A2 Cinemas', said it will be able to open approximately 40 per cent of the screens which it operates.
"We welcome the decision to reopen cinemas and multiplexes. The SOPs that have been released are highly comprehensive and will guarantee that the return to normalisation is a smooth one. This announcement brings enormous relief to media and entertainment industry and the thousands of people it employs, many of whom have been severely impacted by this shutdown," Mukta Arts MD Rahul Puri said. Moreover, as the number of permissible seating in the auditorium has gone down to 50 per cent under the Unlock 5.0 guidelines, some multiplex chains are now exploring private screenings for families and smaller groups.
INOX Leisure CEO Alok Tandon said, "We are also looking to innovate with private screenings, where families or smaller groups of guests can book the entire auditorium and enjoy the content of their choice." "Our shows will be programmed in such a manner that there are no simultaneous entries, intermissions and exits, he said. All multiplex chains have assured that they will strictly follow the SOPs issued by the government in this regard.
"We have some very promising content lined up in the coming months, and Maharashtra opening makes us hopeful of things speeding up in this direction. With that we must also reiterate our priority to ensure the safety and well-being of our customers through strict adherence to all the safety protocols and guidelines laid down…," said Dutta. Besides mandatory temperature checks, masks, pedal-operated touch-free hand sanitisers, the multiplexes would now rely on the digital ways such as e-tickets instead of traditional paper tickets, self-check in with QR codes, sharing of auditorium's seat chart and location of the seat and online order of food and beverages, under the new normals.
Some multiplex operators like Mukta A2 Cinemas is using 'matrix seating' method, which will ensure an empty seat between patrons, while allowing families and groups to sit together. "This starts right from the booking of the tickets, which will take place exclusively through the Mukta A2 Cinemas website and mobile application. Upon arrival at the theatre, customers will be able to self-check by scanning a QR code. Social distancing will be also be maintained during screenings, with occupancy of the cinema hall capped at 50 per cent," Puri said.
Inox will also keep PPE kits available for purchases, which would include a mask, a pair of gloves and sanitiser. It would also provide a web link to its viewers through SMS to access the food and beverage menu to place order. Many cinema halls were closed even before the lockdown period started.
Several states including Delhi, Kerala, J&K, Maharastra etc had directed to close the cinema halls between March 11 to 16 for a temporary period, till March 31, 2020. Later, the central government had directed a complete lockdown of the country, effective from March 25.
According to estimates, India has a total number of around 8,750 screens, in which 3,100 are in multiplexes and balance 5,650 are single screens operating mostly in small tier II, III and below cities.