The global rollout of the vaccine is reason to finally believe that there could be an end to this pandemic, but it is evident that the recovery process will be gradual and slow. India, however, seems to be leading the curve.
In September, the country’s viral situation appeared to be spiraling out of control, with nearly 100,000 cases recorded daily, the highest rate in the world. Go forward four months and the situation is in stark contrast – this week fewer than 10,000 cases were reported on some days, about half that in the UK and less than some US states.
The reasons for this remarkable recovery are vast and are being studied in detail by the global scientific community, but a degree of herd immunity and a large presence of antibodies are cited as key. In response, the government is reopening the economy to pre-pandemic levels, including the beloved big screen sector. Earlier this week, authorities remarkably announced that cinemas would be allowed to return to 100% occupancy from February 1.
Bollywood producer Boney Kapoor explains how the world’s most prolific film plans to return after COVID-19 quits
The response to the news was understandably cheerful. The mood was already pretty vibrant in India after the theatrical success of the Tamil action thriller Master, which cost $ 26 million domestically – and that’s with just 50% theatrical capacity – before heading to Amazon Prime. Now the best producers in the country say Deadline that they will jump at the opportunity to line up their films for theatrical bows in the coming months.
“I think the good times could be here again soon,” predicts Boney Kapoor, the prolific producer. “It’s definitely a very positive decision [cinemas returning to full capacity] and gave us hope.
“I hope exhibitors keep all the safety factors in mind,” he warns. While auditoriums may be full again, a variety of other measures will remain in place, such as securing outside screening rooms, where face masks will also be mandatory.
Kapoor now lines up his Telegu thriller Vakeel Saab, the latest remake of the Hindi hit Pink with Pawan Kalyan, April 9. He also has the Tamil action shot Valimai, starring Ajith Kumar, nearing completion ahead of a potential release this summer, and is returning to production on his epic $ 25 million Hindi sports film Maidaan.
As Deadline reported last year, the film was forced to dismantle its 16-acre set due to the pandemic disruption. Kapoor has now had the site rebuilt and is preparing to complete the film, which will invite professional footballers from around the world to shoot compelling sports scenes (visas allowed). It is currently dated October 15, 2021, but with Baahubali SS director Rajamouli has just released his next epic RRR for the same location there will probably be offsets.
Other high profile titles now planning to release include the Hindi action flick Sooryavanshi, which production company Reliance Entertainment tells us it plans to release in the last week of March, following recent positive news. The company also has biographical sports dramas 83, on the country’s triumph in this year’s Cricket World Cup, on the slate and looks at the first week of June.
“This is very positive news,” comments Shibasish Sarkar, CEO of Reliance. “The company has opened wide. Restaurants, shopping centers, markets, offices – all are now functioning in a normal situation. We believe that spectacular films such as Sooryavanshi and 83 will bring audiences back to theaters. “
At Hindi producer Yash Raj Films, the company has five trending titles on its 2021 slate: the thriller Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar with Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra; comedy Bunty aur Babli 2; action shot Shamshera; comedy Jayeshbhai jordaar; and the historical film Prithviraj. None of those movies are dated, but the company says it is now exploring the timeline.
As for the exhibition, the atmosphere is naturally buoyant.
“The government has done a tremendous job of controlling the cases of Covid in India. Especially with the type of population we have, it’s remarkable, ”says Devang Sampat, CEO of the Indian wing of global exhibitor Cinepolis.
“Cinema is very safe,” he says. “We have worked with the government throughout this process to show them the precautions we are taking. Our number one priority is the safety of the people who come to the theater and the staff we employ.
He says the industry “suffered a lot” throughout this period, with “huge losses” suffered in the past nine months.
“I can’t share the numbers but it has been a painful time. However, the owners of local shopping centers gave us tremendous support and our employees supported us. Everyone participated, ”he adds. “With Master, our theaters were sold at 50% capacity, giving exhibitors great confidence that people are really looking forward to going back to theaters.
“It’s a good time to get back to normal. Producers plan to release their films, with most keeping their films [during the closures],” he adds.
As we’ve reported throughout the past year, India’s streaming boom came to a head in 2020 when movie theater closures left many big-ticket releases on the shelves, gathering dust. . Amazon and Netflix both made high-profile direct VOD purchases that made headlines, but Sampat points out that these were only a small part of the bigger picture.
“We release 1,100 titles every year, you talk about over 20 new content every week,” Sampat says. He estimates that less than 10% of films destined for theaters ended up going direct online last year, meaning the vast majority were selected for their big-screen opportunity in 2021. “In an unprecedented situation , exceptions will occur. I don’t blame the producers [who sold films to streamers], everyone must look at their own business model, ”he adds.
Sampat says the majority of the winning films prove “producers believe in cinema” and he is now optimistic that his business will recover this year. He believes that in the future, VOD and theater will coexist harmoniously in India.
“After the introduction of the OTT platforms, movie admissions actually increased,” Sampat says. “People understand that content has its own space. India is an extremely populous country and there is room for OOT businesses and cinemas. “
“I still believe that cinema is made for theaters,” adds Kapoor. “Films are intended for the big screen. But you can’t stop new inventions. The activity of OTT platforms gives an opportunity to many people and is gaining ground. That’s good, constructive. But it’s a joy to enjoy a movie with a full audience, where everyone reacts to the situation. Laughter, clap – that’s what you get in an auditorium. The pleasure of enjoying it with other people is something you can only experience in a movie theater.