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Akshay Kumar's Bell Bottom Beacon of Hope for Cinemas Incurring Losses During Covid Pandemic?

By: Bohni Bandyopadhyay

News18.com

Last Updated: August 20, 2021, 20:31 IST

Akshay Kumar's BellBottom is the first big mainstream film to release in theatres post the pandemic.

Akshay Kumar's BellBottom is the first big mainstream film to release in theatres post the pandemic.

Bell Bottom is proving to be a major experiment with cinema owners pinning their hopes on the film to draw audiences in post Covid era.

Bell Bottom is the first big-ticket Bollywood film releasing today in theatres post the pandemic. Akshay Kumar has admitted that it is a risk releasing it while box office windows are still closed in many states. But cinema owners that have reopened doors in hopes that the audience will walk in, are grateful that the film is releasing and might encourage more Bollywood filmmakers to take the theatrical route.

Ambani Shanker, Director, Amba Cinemas, one of the oldest single screens in Delhi, says Bellbottom’s release marks a re-start of business for cinemas. “We can only hope for things to go back to normal. Cinemas were the first to close mid March 2020, and the last to reopen. It has been a very difficult year-and-a-half. We have tried to retain as much staff as possible, we have not received any support from the government or from any other corporation, whether it’s municipal or the film industry. We have actually wiped out about 10 to 12 years of savings. If this shutdown had continued for another few months it would have been very difficult for us to survive,” he told News18.

Bell Bottom’s Release is a Bold Step
While it is very difficult to estimate the box office collections of Bellbottom, it is being looked upon as a beacon of hope for the revival of theatre business. Referring to advance booking trends, Ashish Saksena, COO – Cinemas, BookMyShow, said on Tuesday, “Audiences from NCR, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Ahmedabad, Patna, Surat, Bengaluru, Indore & Lucknow are amongst the top transactors on BookMyShow so far, for the film. But it is very difficult to estimate earnings for the opening weekend since all cinemas haven’t yet opened fully. We must give credit to the bold decision taken by the producers to release the film despite cinemas in Maharashtra remaining shut and thus taking the first step towards giving a boost to the industry as a whole. Bellbottom’s release will hopefully goad other production houses and filmmakers to line up and announce regular releases here on, thus helping aid the recovery cycle faster.”

Read: BellBottom Early Reactions Say Akshay Kumar Film is First Sure-Shot Bollywood Blockbuster Amid Covid

Need a Steady Flow of Content
Theatres had reopened briefly last year, in some states, after the first lockdown, but no big budget Hindi film had taken the risk of releasing theatrically. Akshay Kumar’s Laxmii (October 2020) was released digitally, while Salman Khan adopted a hybrid model with Radhe in February this year. Ambani Shanker says it is important that more films release following Bellbottom for theatres to revive.

“I am not a large chain where I am involved in production, distribution and exhibition. I am only at the exhibition part of the chain. I can only run a movie when the producer has produced one and sold it to a distributor who is willing to release the movie. I think the industry appreciates what Akshay Kumar has done by going ahead with the release of Bellbottom in cinemas. He also tried to go the OTT way with Laxmii and we do not hold it against him. But there needs to be a constant flow of content. After Bellbottom, if there are no more releases for the next four weeks, that doesn’t solve our problem,” he says.

Read: BellBottom Review: Akshay Kumar Serves His Usual Swagger, Lara Dutta First-Rate as Indira Gandhi

Audience Loves the Theatre Experience
Shashank Raizada, Managing Director, Delite Cinemas, says he is focusing on bringing the audience back to the theatres and not hoping to recover losses right away. “I am not thinking about profit and loss right now. We’re focused on providing the best of services to bring back the audience to the theatres and provide a safe viewing experience. Delite has always been the first to adapt to change. We were one of the first cinemas in north India equipped with Dolby Atmos enabled screen and sound experience, and now we have installed UV light machine, surface disinfectants, hand sanitizers wherever necessary in the premises. People love watching films on the big screen, and OTT platforms cannot replace that experience.” Ashim Mathur, Senior Regional Director, Emerging Markets, Dolby Laboratories, says, “It is not a competition between screens. This pandemic was beyond anybody’s control. So yes, theaters were closed for a long time, and it does impact the industry overall. But with new films releasing, we are confident that the big experience is going to be back, as it was always.”

Read: Akshay Kumar: My Job Is Even More Dangerous, Can’t Shoot With Mask On In Front Of 10 People

Why Should Business Stop?
While many theatres have shut in the past year or so, multiplex chain PVR has recently opened a new property, their first Director’s Cut in Haryana. Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, Joint Managing Director, PVR Limited sees the pandemic as a temporary stop, and is confident business will pick up soon. “Before the pandemic happened, we had a pipeline. Cinemas were open, revenues were high. We had 100 million customers come to our cinemas. This pandemic came out of nowhere and shook the industry. It was an unprecedented and unfortunate pause. It lasted more than we thought, but people are resuming normal life slowly, so why should we, as a company, stall our plans of growth knowing that in India we need to expand? India is so under-screened. And auditoriums in luxury properties are safer, because there are fewer seats,” he says.

Hopeful That Big Budget Hindi Films will Follow
Sanjeev Bijli says thanks to English and regional movies, August has seen no dearth of content, and Hindi films will follow soon. “The English film studios have been very benevolent. They took a call in July that even if one territory, between Delhi and Mumbai, opens up, they will start releasing all the tentpole films because they’ve been also waiting for very long. After The Suicide Squad, we have The Conjuring, then Manoj Night Shyamalan’s Old. Bellbottom is a big Hindi film, and then there’s Chehre at the end of the month.”

He adds, “Last time, when the lockdown opened, there was some apprehension about releasing films in theatres. But it was quite unfounded because we did see a big Tamil movie like Master make Rs 200 crores. I believe a lot of producers regretted not releasing the movies at that time. But now with the cinemas reopening they are willing to release their films, even in this fractured manner, rather than holding on to them. Once cinemas in Maharashtra open up, Hindi releases will become more frequent. We also have many regional films, like Punjabi and in south languages, lining up for release.”

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first published:August 19, 2021, 09:47 IST
last updated:August 20, 2021, 20:31 IST