In the normal course of events, the summer holidays would have meant boom time for movie theatres. But with the lockdown, this happy prospect may be a remote possibility, and it is anybody’s guess as to how long will it take for the film industry to resume its business.
What will happen if the public stays away from cinema halls after the lockdown has been lifted and movies do get released? Ruban Mathivanan from GK Cinemas says, “It is definitely a big loss for the exhibitors. For now, we can’t say how big that loss is, given that zero revenue has been generated for a month. This is a never-before scenario.”
“We are suffering losses that are running into several lakhs,” says R Panneerselvam of Rohini Cinemas, who is also the general secretary of Tamil Nadu Film Exhibitors Association. He adds that whether the theatres are open or not, there is no exemption from paying electricity charges and property tax at commercial rates. “Besides, those who have taken theatres on rent have to meet those expenses, too. While the Government has doled out support to many industries, we have been left out,” he laments. Banks and insurance companies, too, don’t come to the rescue of single theatre owners, he states.
Maintenance is another issue theatre owners face. Panneerselvam says that after a week of the lockdown when his staff opened the theatre for cleaning, they were shocked to see 45 seats damaged by rodents.
Apart from the challenge in getting people into the theatres, there’s also the added issue of not many big-budget movies featuring big names releasing immediately after the lockdown is lifted, say theatre owners. “Many borders are closed and movies looking for national and international openings would prefer to wait and watch,” says Panneerselvam.
“After the theatre strike that we had a few years ago, it took almost three months for business to bounce back,” informs Rakesh Gowthaman of Vettri Theatres.
Hope is what the theatre owners subsist on these days. Panneerselvam shares that they have given representation to the Tamil Nadu government asking for support and waiver of property tax and electricity charges.
For a non-multiplex theatre, the expense in terms of salary for staff comes to around `3-7 lakh a month, say theatre owners. A source from Ram Muthuram Cinemas, Tirunelveli, tells us, “We have paid full salary to our staff for March, and the salary for April will be given in a few days. However, we can’t say anything about the next month.”
Most theatre owners say they do not know how to pay staff in the coming months. “This is the first time we are in this zero-revenue situation for so many days,” says Valliappan of Kamala Cinemas. While Panneerselvam says that he might have to think of giving some staff unpaid leave, Rakesh feels many theatre owners in the state might begin thinking of layoffs if this situation continues.