Indian cinema is set for revival early next year

September 27, 2021 3:35 PM

Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down, affecting nearly all sectors of life. India’s entertainment sector, including the film industry, was no exception. Movies are the epitome of India’s popular culture

India’s entertainment sector, movies, social distancing guidelines, entertainment capital, Mumbai, OTT platformsThe cinema halls and theatres are largely closed, especially in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra.

By Markand Adhikari

Covid-19 has turned our lives upside down, affecting nearly all sectors of life. India’s entertainment sector, including the film industry, was no exception. Movies are the epitome of India’s popular culture. But due to the social distancing guidelines, they are among the worst hit by the pandemic. Yet, if all goes well, I believe film screenings will return to the big screen by the last quarter of this fiscal.

This year, India suffered from the most virulent second wave and the entertainment capital, Mumbai, especially had a high number of cases. So it is understandable that the authorities are taking extra precautions. Under the unlock guidelines, other places of public gatherings are gradually opened but not cineplexes. The cinema halls and theatres are largely closed, especially in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. While the OTT platforms have provided an option for the release of new films, the impact of a new release cannot be felt in the absence of the big screen. There was a brief respite late last year, when the big screen had reopened, but before people could develop confidence and return in numbers, the second wave pulled the curtains.

More worrying is the fact there is no clarity about the future. There is no word when the cinema halls will unlock, and this uncertainty is affecting the whole sector. The livelihoods of people directly or indirectly employed with theatres as well as with studios and production houses are at stakes.

Shootings have resumed to an extent, like they did last year too, but the world is not back to normal, and crews are not sure if this will continue for sure. Nobody is in a position to launch new ambitious projects, because in the absence of theatres opening throughout the country, there is no way to gauge the business impact of new ventures.

Big-budget movies need theatres to recoup the investments. OTT cannot help recover the costs. During the pandemic, there has been a spate of big-ticket films like ‘Radhe’, ‘Laxmii’ (previously titled ‘Laxmi Bomb’), ‘Coolie No.1’, ‘Hungama 2’, ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ among others on OTT, but they have not performed well or even appreciated on that new medium. God knows what fate they would have met with if they were released at the box office. The positive side, of course, is that these films survived despite the closure of cinema halls and, frankly speaking, OTT platforms bailed them out. On the contrary, a good film like the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer ‘Chehre’ has become the scapegoat of scattered cinema-hall release in some places outside Maharashtra.

Film stars too have to start living in the new reality. This is not the time when stars can ask Rs 50 crore to Rs 100 crore for a film. I think we should follow the Hollywood structure of equality and equity-based partnership for all stakeholders.

The good news is that the Covid-19 situation has been under control. It has been several months since the second wave receded. The vaccination exercise is also going well. If nothing untoward happens and we enter the endemic stage, then the cinema halls too will open, let’s say, by the first quarter of the next year. The new year will bring new hopes, but there are new challenges too. People will take time to return to the cinema halls. After more than one and a half year, we have developed new habits. We have forgotten the time we used to enjoy on the weekends during a family outing and watching films. People have adjusted their expectations, and formed the habit of switching on their TVs or mobile phones when they want to watch a movie. The big screen experience is irreplaceable, but it remains to be seen when people will overcome their natural hesitancy and flock to theatres.

If they remain selective in going to cineplexes, then only big-budget blockbusters will go to cinemas. For small-budget, niche and concept-oriented films, meanwhile, the OTT will prove to be an ideal medium, which is a good sign.

In any case, a lot depends on when we come out of the pandemic stage and embrace life as before. Media too has a role to play in dispelling the fear psychosis and cultivating positivity in society and creating awareness. Speeding up vaccination will also help.

In the long run, I strongly believe cinema will never die – our society will never let them die, because it’s part of our DNA.

(The author is Chairman and Managing Director, SAB Group. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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