Maharashtra lockdown: 'Sooryavanshi' postponed, film industry braces for more losses

With the Maharashtra government imposing the weekend lockdown to curtail rising cases of COVID-19 and "Sooryavanshi" producers announcing the postponement of the film's release, industry insiders say theatrical business is staring at huge losses.

The entertainment sector was in the recovery mode with theatre chains operating to full capacity from February in different parts of the country even though the occupancy remained at 50 per cent in Maharashtra, which has now announced a weekend lockdown from 8 pm on Friday to 7 am Monday.

The night curfew will continue to be imposed in the state and strict restrictions will be in force from Monday 8 pm onwards.

Uncertain times ahead

Producers, exhibitors and distributors say they are looking at an uncertain time ahead with the makers of the highly-anticipated Akshay Kumar-starrer "Sooryavanshi" on Monday announcing that they were postponing the release. The theatrical release of Amitabh Bachchan-starrer "Chehre" and Rani Mukerji-Saif Ali Khan-starrer "Bunty Aur Babli 2" were already pushed.

Vinod Bhanushali, President of Media and Marketing, Publishing (TV) and Music and co-producer of several T-Series films, told PTI that it's unlikely that the big movies will release in the current situation.

"Bollywood calendar is again going to be affected. We had a release in May during Eid, 'Satyameva Jayate 2', and at the moment, we are looking to arrive on that date.

"However, we will gauge the situation closer to the release of the film and take a call accordingly. The industry must stand in solidarity with regards to film releases," Bhanushali said.

Industry will emerge stronger

Producer Anand Pandit, who has postponed"Chehre", hopes the industry will emerge stronger from the virus.

"The virus has been manipulating our lives and we must trust our leaders and healthcare workers to make the decisions for us. The lockdown will have an impact but will people actually be entertained if they are worried about their health?" Pandit told PTI.

Exhibitors are more disheartened by the news of a weekend lockdown in Mumbai, as these are crucial days of business for theatres.

Nitin Datar, President, Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, said they will incur huge losses.

"Before reopening the halls last year, we had spent a lot of money on improving the condition of theatres and maintaining COVID-19 guidelines. Our business had just begun with the release of some films earning decent collection in 50 per cent capacity.

"Then night curfew happened and we lost out on two shows. Now this decision has come. Crores will be lost as the main business happens on weekends," he told PTI.

Shattered dreams

Team "Sooryavanshi" said diretor Rohit Shetty took the "brave and difficult decision" to postpone the film's April 30 release. The cop drama was originally set for release last year.

Exhibitor Sunny Chandaramani, who has 18 to 20 single-screen cinemas in Pune, said they were bracing for another lull phase.

"Maybe cinemas all over India will be closed again, except the South market. There will be huge losses. We were looking forward to the release of 'Sooryavanshi'. Now with this situation, the dreams of many theatre owners are shattered," he told PTI.

Chandaramani estimates that Bollywood has lost about Rs 400 crore due to the state government's new rule. Personally, he is looking at the loss of about Rs 30 to 40 lakh per month for all his theatres.

Datar also believes movie releases will be impacted due to the restrictions in Mumbai.

"If Maharashtra closes down, entire India will be closed in a way as no one will release films. So theatres in other regions will also be hit," he said.

Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi, who owns eight theatres in Maharashtra, said it's important to save lives but it is equally essential to save livelihoods.

"It is time for the state government to step in to protect the livelihood of lakhs of people who earn their bread directly or indirectly through this sector," he said.

Shutting down cinemas is not the solution

Rahul Bhandari, who has 17 cinema halls in different cities of Maharashtra, said shutting down cinemas is not the solution.

"In 50 per cent capacity, there was hardly 15 per cent occupancy that too over weekends. Cinemas have been closed for a year but COVID-19 cases were still there. The focus should be on creating awareness about masks, sanitization, social distancing, and vaccination," he said.

Trade observer Himesh Mankad said release of Salman Khan-starrer "Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai", "83" and "Satyameva Jayate 2" might also be pushed.

"The exhibition sector will suffer the most as they would not have any films to show. This might also lead to the shutting down of single-screen theatres. It is a bad scenario," Mankad told PTI.

Rathi said the industry is hoping for some support from the state government, after their meeting with Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday.

He said the exhibition sector suggested that te state government grant policy-driven support to the sector, like retrospective waiver of property tax, minimum demand charges of electricity for the period of closure, financial benefits for films that decide to have a theatrical release in Maharashtra.

On Sunday, Mumbai recorded its highest single-day spike of 11,163 new coronavirus cases, taking the city's caseload to 4,52,445.

In recent days, movie stars such as Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pendnekar, Vicky Kaushal and others contracting the virus. Kumar and 45 crew members of his film "Ram Setu" have tested positive for COVID-19.

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