Cinema Can Come Back Stronger
Saturday 04 April 2020 12.30 IST
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The coronavirus pandemic is looking to be the biggest shutdown ever for Hindi cinema with the worst seen before being in 2009 when there was no major release for around 2 months though small films did release on limited screens. This is going to be a longer shutdown if we go by China where cinemas have some chance of opening in a few weeks time which would mean a 3 month shutdown. It is being reported that the biggest theatre in Wuhan where the pandemic started was disinfected yesterday getting ready to open up.



So with the huge problems in US and Europe the 3 minimum period looks a minimum for this shutdown and its not as if everything goes back to normal as soon as cinemas open up. There is fear in the industry that this will change cinema forever for the worse but thats an unlikely scenario. The only horrible scenario is that a vaccine for this pandemic proves hard to find as that will for sure change cinema forever but considering where medical science is around the world today you would expect someone somewhere to find one.



Obviously the industry in this scenario takes the negative side as they see films with lower budgets and stars cutting fees to help out when that is not probably the need of the hour as the audience that was there has not run away but there is a huge global pandemic which does not allow socializing and eventually things will come back to how there were but there is no time frame. Its always weird the industry also expected stars to cut prices in bad times but that has never really happened. It is all supply and demand and these prices are not forced. Also its a totally star driven industry and until you find the technique or content to drive the industry then star prices will only go one way and that is up.



The last shutdown in 2009 did see higher occupancy at multiplexes and that was even though 2009 did not have huge event films. But that was not a health scare also so the likely scenario is that the higher occupancy will come this time as well due to pent up demand but it will not be straight away and may take some time but eventually they will be higher as the health risks diminish.



There have been four major shutdowns in the last fifty years or so and after each one there has been an uptick in average box office occupancy for a period. In March 1968 there was a shutdown of releases and shoots for 19 days due to high rental charges in North and CPCI Rajasthan. The mega BLOCKBUSTER Ram Aur Shyam was one week away from a silver jubilee in many theatres when this shutdown came. Post the shutdown there was a line of big HITS and successful films.



In October 1986 there was a halt of releases in Mumbai due to huge taxes which were around 170% in Maharashtra. Films did continue to release in other circuits and Dosti Dushmani and Insaaf Ki Awaaz proved to be HITS in the strike and Nagina was a blockbuster released a week after the strike was halted. The tax was so bad that there were some films having a 10 lakh total GROSS collections and the share to the distributor was just one lakh. This bandh lasted 31 days.



The tax problem in Maharashtra returned in January 1997 and there was a shutdown for a month with no major releases. The state government had bought down entertainment tax to 50% in September 1984 and it was going back to 100% from January 1997 which led to cinemas shutting in Maharashtra and no big releases. The casualty was Ajay which only had a one week run in Maharashtra. When the cinemas opened up in February there was a flood of grossers like Judwaa, Hero No.1, judaai, Ziddi and Koyla.



Then in 2009 there was a longest strike due to a revenue sharing issue between multiplexes and distributors/ producers. The cinemas did remain open so there was no causalities but there was not a major release for almost 3 months. All the chains saw better average occupancy for six months after the strike then what they saw for six months prior to the strike.



So there is hope cinema will come back stronger when the things are back to normal though it will take time as all the other closures were industry problems and here its a huge global issue. A good result will be if things get going sometime in the third quarter but due to westerns countries having the worst of the pandemic the fourth quarter may be when the bigger films come and there could be a line of them.



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