The Akshay Kumar-starrer spy thriller Bell Bottom has now been scheduled for a theatrical release on July 27. Earlier, Kumar posted a video on Instagram to announce the news.
The film was previously scheduled for an April 2021 release but was pushed due to the second wave of Covid-19 in the country. “I know you have patiently waited for the release of #Bellbottom. Couldn’t be happier to finally announce the release of our film. Arriving on the big screens worldwide #BellBottomOn27July," Akshay captioned the video on Instagram.
However, the question remains the same: will the release of a big budget multi-starrer change the fate of cinema halls in India?
It’s been many months since India is battling the deadly Coronavirus, and the disease has destroyed livelihoods, forced big businesses to kneel and economies to struggle. The businesses that depend on footfall are the worst hit as any sort of gatherings is a dangerous thing. The places of entertainment, especially cinema halls and restaurants, have felt the heat because they couldn’t be allowed to function for a large part of the year.
Later, they were permitted to open with limited capacity, either 30% or 50%. The Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Prakash Javadekar, gave the filmmakers a new hope when he tweeted this on January 31: Good news for Cinema lovers. Today, Issued the revised SOP for the film exhibition, 100% occupancy will be allowed in theatres from 1st February, but all @MoHFW_INDIA #COVID19 guidelines will have to be followed.”
But little de we know that the virus is preparing for an even more dangerous second wave!
Everything was back to square one. The months of April and May saw the pandemic baring its ugliest face. Here was no question of cinema halls opening during that time. Now, when the number of daily cases has gone down, the state governments are likely to open theatres with limited seating. Among the big revenue centres for Hindi films, Mumbai will see theatres running with 50% seating capacity and Delhi is yet to decide the SOP. But many state governments are likely to open theatres if the cases keep decreasing.
But will that be enough for the filmmakers to make money on their projects?
Recently, Salman Khan’s Radhe Your Most Wanted Bhai, which took the OTT route, also opened in theatres in Mumbai, and sold 84 tickets. This is not an encouraging sign because the fear of contracting the virus is here to stay.
In January, this year, when situation was looking a bit better, some production houses decided to go the theatrical route. Films like Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi, Madam Chief Minister, Roohi, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, Mumbai Saga and Saina released in cinema halls in between January 1 and March 31. These films were backed by established production houses such as Drishyam Films, T Series and Yash Raj Films. Yet they struggled at the ticket window.
More than content, the timing was important for these projects. Some of these films upon releasing on OTTs received tremendous response. That shows there was an audience for them, but the timing was not right.
In the same way, Radhe was panned by the critics after its OTT release. There were memes and jokes, but would the film have received the same kind of response had it released in fully functional theatres? Salman Khan films have not found many takers among the critics even in the past, but those films turned out to be money spinners. However, if the theatres don’t see a favourable environment for scared spectators, wouldn’t their attention be more on safety than the content?
It might seem like a brave move for Akshay Kumar to push for a theatrical release, but the virus is still looming large and that might hamper his efforts to bring back normalcy. It’s approximately seven weeks for Bell Bottom release and we can only hope that the virus vanishes by then.