After a prolonged interval of almost eight months, multiplexes and cinema halls across Maharashtra finally opened to the public on Thursday, one week after the state government relaxed prohibitions on film screenings.
The multiplexes - Inox, PVR and Cinepolis - resumed limited operations, at 50 per cent seating capacity, with a maximum of three shows being scheduled on the first day. Ticket counters are insisting on cashless transactions and many multiplexes have adapted paperless ticketing, in the form of QR codes. Inside the theatres, every alternate seat is being kept empty to maintain distancing norms.
However, staffers present at the multiplex venues said that footfall was low on Thursday.
"We had two shows today, but nobody turned up for the morning show so we had postponed it to the evening, let's see what happens," said a multiplex official in suburban Mumbai on Thursday.
Another official said, "We had to cancel the morning show as not a single ticket was sold and we are still confused about what will happen in the evening."
The tickets were priced at the usual rates. At Metro Inox (Nariman Point), the cost of an evening show ticket was Rs 99. Most multiplexes only had two-three screens functional, with the movies on show being pre-lockdown fare.
"For safety reasons, we are operating not more than two screens. Also, we are short of manpower, as most of our staffers reside in satellite cities and are unable to commute unless local trains resume," said an official.
Despite the low footfall, multiplex chain staff are optimistic that things will improve soon. "Most of the people are unaware about us reopening, footfall will eventually rise in a couple of weeks, as news will spread through word of mouth," they felt.
Meanwhile, standalone theatres across the state refrained from resuming oeprations from Thursday. Nitin Datar, President of Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India informed that standalone theatres would resume operations between November 13 and 14.
"There is also a shortage of funds, many theatre owners have to pay off debts, which is why they are waiting for a couple of days," Datar told The Free Pres Journal.
He also informed that in order to ease their financial woes, the association had sought soft subsidies and loans in the form of tax waivers from the state government.
"Currently, only 5 per cent of the theatres and multiplexes have opened. There is a dearth of content but hopefully things will improve as soon as new films hit the screens," Datar added.