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Cinemas back in action after third-wave hiatus

After a gap of more than a month, the Hindi film industry will resume theatrical releases this weekend with Badhaai Do, a successor to the 2018 superhit Badhaai Ho that starred Ayushmann Khurrana, Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta.

The February and March calendars are packed with a fresh film release every week including Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi on the 25 Februrary, Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Jhund on 4 March, Prabhas’ Radhe Shyam on the 11 March, Akshay Kumar’s Bachchan Pandey on the 1 March and the much-awaited RRR on 25 March, among others. Dubbed South Indian films releasing alongside are being seen as a major draw too after the success of Allu Arjun’s Pushpa: The Rise- Part One. Ravi Teja’s Telugu film Khiladi will release this Friday while Ajith’s Tamil film Valimai is slated for 24 February.

Later in the summer, Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, period drama KGF- Chapter 2 and Tiger Shroff’s Heropanti 2 will vie for audiences’ attention.

“With the third wave starting to wane and cases on the decline, restrictions across key states have been relaxed bringing some respite and hope for the recovery of the movie entertainment ecosystem. It’s more than fair to say that cinemas will be back in action with a power-packed calendar over the next few weeks,” said Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas at ticketing site BookMyShow who expects Badhaai Do followed by Gangubai Kathiawadi to kick-start the box office.

Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd agreed the period following the coming weekend looks promising with the major difference being that unlike the first two waves, producers have been quicker in making announcements and locking dates. “We’ve also reopened much faster. Earlier, everyone was unsure if people would come back to cinemas at all. Then after the second wave, the south took the lead while Hindi films waited it out but now all producers have gained confidence,” Jyala said. In the coming weeks, he expects other big-ticket films like Jersey, Prithviraj and Jayeshbhai Jordaar to also announce dates.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures Ltd pointed out that a rich lineup of films has waited for cinemas to reopen. “The first and second wave may have seen films that were ready and waiting for release, move directly to digital. But the films that are opting for direct-to-digital hereon are those specifically made for digital platforms or films that the producers feel would find it difficult to jostle for space among the big-ticket films in a slightly truncated year coupled with the restrictions – capacity and night curfews,” he said.

The restrictions imposed on cinemas and malls are a bit harsh, considering that not a single case has been linked to cinema theatres in the past two years, Gianchandani added.

Others say significant recovery may take a while as more mass-market films are slated for later. “Badhaai Do is not going to gel with audiences in small towns and single screens here are looking forward for more to Khiladi, that will be dubbed in Hindi,” said Bihar-based independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan adding that many cinemas in tier-two and tier-three towns are still playing Pushpa.

While Sanjay Leela Bhansali enjoys good equity thanks to the large-scale love stories and period dramas he is known for, initial reactions to Gangubai Kathiawadi are fairly mixed and Alia Bhatt may not be able to anchor a film on her own, in which case most single screens will prefer to play the dubbed version of Ajith’s Valimai. “March onwards, however, the summer is looking fantastic and the mix of Hindi and dubbed south offerings should ensure some of the best months we’ve ever had,” Chauhan said.

Regional language films have done well as have their dubbed versions in the Hindi-speaking markets. Movies like Bangarraju (Telugu), Hridayam (Malayalam), Ardaas Karaan (Punjabi), Mounika (Tamil) and Yeregavuye Kirikiri (Tulu) have also held out on their own in the absence of big Hindi movies across India.

“The competitive landscape had dried up and we were able to get a long and exclusive runway which is a very unique space to be in,” said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films. Yoodlee released a Marathi film Zombivli for Republic Day and managed good traction despite the 50% cap in Maharashtra. As the bigger films come back though, there is no doubt regional films will have to compete to find appeal, he added. Live Mint

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