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Can star-studded Diwali show bring the sparkle back to cinema halls?

Stars are returning to India's big screens. In the past year, streaming platforms like Netflix and Hotstar had become the only avenue for producers. But Diwali releases may be reversing the trend

Indian film industry | Bollywood | PVR Cinemas

Krishna Veera Vanamali 

and Ranveer Singh’s Sooryavanshi has become the first big-budget film to be released on the big screen since the outbreak. Directed by Rohit Shetty, this action-drama was originally scheduled to arrive in cinema halls in March 2020. But it finally released on November 5th, a day after Diwali, after a delay of 19 months. The long wait, however, paid off for the makers of Sooryavanshi, as the movie released to a resounding response. It grossed Rs 50 crore in the two days of the Diwali weekend and is projected to garner Rs 125 crore in the first seven days. That will be enough for the producers to break even. The movie has also become the biggest opening for The film has already recovered part of the cost by selling digital rights to Netflix and broadcasting rights to Zee Entertainment, apart from its music rights. According to industry estimates, these three rights have been sold for roughly Rs 200 crore. Meanwhile, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth’s Diwali release Annaathe is also breaking records. The film opened to negative reviews from critics but that has not stopped audiences from flocking to theatres to watch the superstar back in action. The film, which features a huge star cast, has collected Rs 50 crore in the first two days and is estimated to have already crossed Rs 100 crore in total earnings. The release of Hollywood film Eternals, the latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is adding variety to India’s big releases after Diwali.

The film experienced a strong weekend collection of about Rs 18 crore in India. But can this festival momentum sustain? Theatres are optimistic about more big releases, hoping they would put an end to their troubles. But some producers are still opting for direct OTT releases, leaving theatre owners displeased. In one such example, all five upcoming releases of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal are releasing on streaming platforms. On whether such platforms will eat into theatre revenues, this is what PVR Managing Director Ajaj Bijli told Business Standard's Ram Prasad Sahu in a recent interview. He said:

  • Content acquisition by OTTs jumped since theatres were shut
  • Some content will still go to OTT
  • Enough number of movies will release in theatres now
Nevertheless, the Diwali box-office performance has decisively shown that the public is more eager than ever to return to cinemas in the world’s biggest movie market. The upbeat box office collection during the Diwali weekend comes despite the fact that as many as 1,000 screens have permanently shut down due to the impact of the lockdowns. Moreover, some states like Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana are still allowing cinemas to operate with only 50% capacity. Maharashtra is the biggest market for Bollywood, accounting for around 30% of its all-India box-office revenues. PVR’s Bijli also spoke about when the company might cross pre-pandemic revenue levels. He said:
  • Most states still at 50% theatre capacity
  • Things may come back to normal by Q4
  • Possible third wave, capacity restrictions are only constraints
Multiplexes are now batting for the lifting of restrictions on theatre occupancy. But states are treading cautiously on this front as they look to prevent a third wave of COVID-19. India’s daily COVID cases have dipped to a nine-month low, hovering near the 11,000-mark. If the current trend continues, it will not take long before cinemas start seeing revenue above the pre-pandemic levels

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First Published: Tue, November 09 2021. 08:15 IST