By Naina Sharma and Diya Barmecha
he pandemic Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has caused changes around the world that we have never imagined before. Things that we never imagined are now occurring and changing our lives drastically. After a long time, entire families are now quarantined at home and required to stay in one place. Important places such as theatres, schools, and workplaces are all shut. All these precautions being taken, although they may seem tedious, are all extremely necessary to keep our people safe and healthy. The government is trying its best to keep India from panicking and is trying hard to keep everyone safe and away from harm’s reach. They have taken extreme actions such as a lockdown,which has been extended until April 30th. Furthermore, a ban on social gatherings. Since the people in India are not taking the virus as seriously as they should, the government is speculating to prolong the lockdown until May – or longer. This virus has a toll on all sorts of businesses and has left many workers and employees without a source of income. One aspect that the virus has affected, is theaters, movies and the film industry.
Kerala, Jammu, and Kashmir, Delhi, Karnataka and Mumbai have closed malls, gyms and cinema halls to people because the virus has been declared a pandemic by the WHO. Although theatres do not seem an important part of this fight against corona, they definitely are. The Bollywood cinema was set to have many new releases that people were excited for and looking forward to. There are many sales that suffered from this virus. Baaghi 3, released on 6 March has lost around 10% in sales. Irfan Khan starring in Angrezi Medium released on 13th March and was set to resume its screening after the pandemic. However, Hotstar (an online streaming platform) has released Angrezi Medium as of April 6th and is not set to resume screening. Fans of many actors and actresses are waiting for the green light on theatres so that they can see their favourite movies in the theatre. Other international films such as Fast and Furious 9 have been postponed until further notice. Movies such as Macbeth, Avatar 2 and a biographical movie called Elvis have been suspended. Whereas movies such as Home alone, Spider-Man and the Little Mermaid have been delayed until further notice.
Sitting at home, everyone yearns to be at a theatre, watching exciting movies, laughing, crying and altogether having fun. International streaming software such as Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix sales are skyrocketing. Even national streaming software such as Voot is earning much more money. To these companies, the virus is playing to their advantage. Small-time companies such as Voot had never expected such sales. However, as this crisis situation is intensifying, more people are investing their money on entertainment purposes to pass all their free time at home.
We can only speculate what will happen after this crisis. Theatres have been earning a lot of money since the late 1800s. People have gotten so comfortable with the feel of sitting at home and watching a movie that the idea of ever going to a theatre again seems unreal. Sitting at home and watching has a different feel, you could be doing multiple tasks at once and still be able to watch a movie with your loved ones. The beauty of these streaming partners is that you can watch a range of movies from vast languages. Not only English and Hindi but also Spanish, Tamil, Marathi, and many others. Movies that release in theatres reach our homes through these softwares in a matter of a few weeks, and with the virus, even days.
Why would someone spend money and time going to a theatre when they can watch the same movie, in the privacy of their home without any extra expenditures?
The effect this virus can have on theatres is unimaginable. We can surely say that since the rise of Netflix and other software, the sales of theatres have gone down, this virus was just the tip of the iceberg for theatres. Netflix and Amazon Prime have started creating their own original productions, which have been huge hits in the past and continue to be so. They have become so popular that they have renowned stars such as Jacqueline Fernandes and Arshad Warsi acting in them. Movies and TV shows such as Drive, Sacred Games, Mirzapur, and many others are favourites of the people in India.
We cannot estimate the amount of money that will be lost, however, theatres in Delhi alone may suffer a loss ranging from Rs 2 lakh to 10 lakhs without any profit whatsoever, explained film distributor Joginder Mahajan, the general secretary of the Motion Pictures Association in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Along with losses with respect to the theatres, small-time actors and directors are losing a lot of money. Movies that were already shot in in the process of releasing or editing are in big losses due to this pandemic. We can estimate that for at least 2 more months, the theatres will stay shut as there are a lot of people who come and go. Multiple people sitting on the same seat is a big setback, which is why theatres won’t be open as soon as other commodities.
“Delhi, a metropolitan city, has 150 screens, which will stay closed till further notice as ordered by the government. Everybody is facing losses and are in a quandary because even if you don’t run the theatre or earn any money, you have to pay for electricity bills and other essentials. A theatre shutdown like this is totally unprecedented, but there have been strikes in the past. Cinema halls were also closed for three-four days in 1984 during riots. It is hard to estimate the losses now but there are many indirect expenses,” he said.
For now, at least, we have no update as to when the quarantine will be over. So the theatres will stay closed. What will change? Movies are now being postponed and do not have fixed dates on the release calendar, and theatres have gone dark. Assuming we reemerge from this quarantine, we might return to an entirely different film industry.