Film trade experts are projecting a gloomy year for India’s movie industry as many theatres close for good, and cinema-goers remain wary due to the second wave of the pandemic. Studios, too, are unlikely to release big titles soon, even after the current curbs are lifted on the back of prevailing uncertainty.
A combination of these factors could lead to a ₹3,000-4,000 crore loss for Bollywood this year alone, two trade experts said.
While the March quarter saw box office earnings of barely ₹50 crore, according to Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, the second quarter seems like a complete washout with the closest releases now expected only in June, and some are even pinning hopes on the Independence Day weekend.
Mint had previously reported that total box office collections in the 2020 March quarter stood at ₹1,150 crore, the highest first-quarter revenue ever.
“It seems like a gloomy year, and one has very little hope for the film business,” Mohan said. The restrictions imposed during the first wave of the pandemic, which wasn’t as dangerous, had led to the closure of over 1,500 screens, and the second wave, which is more severe, should, therefore, see more closures, he added.
“Many other theatre owners are desperate to exit the business, and I don’t see the box office catching up anytime soon,” Mohan noted, adding that there’s uncertainty around theatres at least till May and June.
A single-screen owner planning to shut his property said on the condition of anonymity that the future for the film exhibition business is “dark” and that the ongoing second wave will likely “lead to a bloodbath”.
Mohan added that just like filmmakers did not want to release movies starring top, expensive actors for months after they were permitted to reopen last October, they are likely to take it slow this time as well, with different seating capacities and state regulations, adding to the chaos.
Moreover, in a repeat of last year, the big summer season that sees tentpole titles from both Hollywood and Bollywood hitting screens and is a coveted period thanks to school vacations has been wiped out.
“With especially the southern movie business on a different footing, having started releases early and several big films scheduled, we felt the movie business was in a pretty good place, but the latest spike (in infections) has ensured everything takes a beating,” said Rajesh Mishra, chief executive officer of Indian operations at UFO Moviez India Ltd, a digital service provider that recently entered film distribution.
However, Mishra pointed out that there are tentpole titles like Sooryavanshi waiting to release in theatres, and the poor response to films that went directly to streaming platforms shows the appeal of the big screen. “If the second wave peaks by mid-May and the vaccination drive kicks in, the wheel can even be reinvented by June,” Mishra said.