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Lack of new content forces closure of single-screen theatres

A number of single-screen theatres across the country are looking to voluntarily shut down till brand new films are available for release, even though state governments have permitted operations. The delay in new releases, especially in Hindi, has hit the market hard and theatres say both Spider-Man: No Way Home and Allu Arjun’s Pushpa: The Rise-Part One have exhausted their run with the latter streaming online now.

Besides, the fear of infections among audiences during the current omicron wave is leading to zero attendance in some cases, compelling cancellation of shows on many days. Even though small-budget films minus big stars are being released in Telugu and Tamil industries, there is little draw among viewers, said trade experts.

The cost of running even a small theatre in the absence of new films, up to ₹4.5 lakh per month, can be crippling.

“Everyone is in a state of complete panic and contemplating whether to close their theatres or continue running,” said Pranav Garg, managing director of Maya Palace, a two-screen cinema in Muzaffarnagar. Garg’s business has been hit as no new Hindi films are being released after Delhi shut cinemas late last month and other states imposed stricter curbs such as night curfews and 50% seating caps.

Garg said he had received several queries for SS Rajamouli’s Telugu period drama RRR that was supposed to be released with Hindi dubs on 7 January but was later postponed. These delays have pushed the exhibition business back by several steps after a brief spell of recovery, he said.

Pravin Chalikwar, director of Priti Cinemas in Parbani, Maharashtra, agreed Allu Arjun’s Pushpa had seen a fantastic run but the ₹5-10 lakh that his theatre had made by screening the film, along with other recent titles like Salman Khan’s production Antim- The Final Truth and John Abraham-starrer Satyameva Jayate 2, had to be spent on license renewals and fixed electricity charges. Chalikwar is now banking on the small Hollywood and Marathi films whose producers may agree to release them in theatres regardless of curbs and restrictions. “We will just have to wait and watch,” he said.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said the situation may be alarming in north India but even cinemas in the south are being kept alive artificially, since there is no real content to play. It is common for multiplexes to play only three out of six screens at a given property and while evening and night shows have anyway been impacted by curfews, several cinemas are voluntarily letting go of noon shows.

The past week saw the release of a bunch of small, non-star films in Tamil Nadu including Naai Sekar, Kombu Vatcha Singamda, Enna Solla Pogirai and Carbon, with little traction. In Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, cinemas have been embroiled in a major row with the government that has fixed slabs on ticket prices, to as low as ₹5 for some non-AC cinemas. Live Mint

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