Once new films come out, it’ll be business as usual: PVR CEO Gautam Dutta

It is 15 days since cinema halls reopened. Not every state, however, has given them permission to resume business. So, PVR Cinemas, a leading multiplex operator with 845 screens across 71 cities, is currently operating only 450 screens in 10 states and four Union Territories. While the number of screens might be nearly half, the first few weeks have been encouraging, GAUTAM DUTTA, CEO of PVR Cinemas, tells Veenu Sandhu. Edited excerpts.

In the two weeks since cinemas reopened, what has been the experience of the multiplex industry — in terms of audiences returning and the screening content?

We are quite pleased by the response. It is heartening to see people rejoice at the feeling of watching movies on the big screen again. At this point, our aim is to honour the trust our customers have shown by choosing to return to the cinemas by offering industry-defining safety and hygiene.

In terms of the numbers, some states have shown exemplary response, with West Bengal booking full house with 50 per cent capacity — the maximum that is allowed right now.

We are currently screening content that has performed well in the past as part of our film festivals such as “Unmissable Hits”, “Halloween Film Festivals”, et cetera. We reopened with Bollywood blockbusters like Tanhaji, Thappad, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, moved to Hollywood award-winning hits like Parasite, Joker, Ford v Ferrari and are currently excited about horror favourites like Conjuring 2, It and the newly released The Rental. A large variety of regional content has also been made available to the public.

We are working on bringing new content and offerings such as “PVR Private Screening” to enjoy movies exclusively with one’s friends and family. The whole theatre can be booked privately with the assurance of enhanced safety, starting at ~1,999. We have also launched festive discounts and attractions.

What kind of confidence-building steps have been taken?

We are strictly adhering to the safety guidelines laid down by the home ministry in addition to our practices aligned with the standards prescribed by the Global Cinema Federation. The footfalls will increase once our audience is satisfied with the safety practices, and we hope they will spread the word and build trust on our behalf.

What is the response of the audience and the stakeholders?

The industry is pleased by the faith the government has shown in us by allowing 50 per cent occupancy. Our immediate and primary objective is to ensure the safety and well-being of our patrons and employees in every way and to build confidence in them to return to the theatres, and only then focus on measuring their response.

Not every state has allowed cinemas to open. What has been the effect of that?

The response to reopening cinemas has been different in every state owing to varied sentiments prevailing in the particular state. It is undoubtedly very important for cinemas across the country to open up so that the producers can start planning the release of new films. Maharashtra, in particular, is a very important state and contributes approximately 20 per cent of the Hindi films’ revenue; therefore, reopening of cinemas in the state is vital for the release of new Hindi films.

What are the challenges that you’re currently facing?

Primarily to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our patrons and employees. To accomplish this, we are taking stringent measures: chequered auditorium seating; social distancing at all levels; digital contactless transactions; fibre and glass shields. The premise undergoes a complete ULV (ultra-low volume) sanitisation process at regular intervals and a deep cleaning and disinfection regime is followed every night using medical-grade disinfectant chemicals, apart from the cleaning and sanitisation after every show.

The next challenge is the release of new content. We are certain that once new films start coming out, it should be business as usual.

What support do you expect from the government?

We have made several requests to local governments to support the industry, including waiving of licence fee for the year, concessions in electricity and demand charges, waiver of GST dues for the next few months, loans and grants to give liquidity support to the sector, et cetera. We would also need support from both central and state governments to relax the capacity restrictions over the next few months.

Cinemas were among the last businesses to get a green signal to operate and, expectedly, this had a financial impact on the industry. What’s the picture like now?

We are not just hopeful but are quite positive that the situation will improve in the coming months. The festival season, too, should significantly contribute to this.

It is very dynamic right now, and it may take 3-4 weeks for the confidence to start building up and for the new content to start coming in. However, it can be both sooner or later than that. Business Standard

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