All big films set for release fight a common villain – Omicron

PTI | | | Updated on: Jan 07, 2022
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Battered industry looks at more losses as Covid cases surge

The list of big ticket films ready and awaiting release is growing by the day with theatres either closing down or operating at 50 per cent capacity and audiences too scared to venture into a hall anyway, dealing another blow to a battered industry unsteadily rising to its feet.

S S Rajamouli’s RRR , Akshay Kumar’s Prithviraj , Shahid Kapoor-starrer Jersey , Prabhas’ Radhe Shyam and Ajith Kumar’s Tamil action drama Valimai are among the titles that were supposed to release this month and help revive the Indian film industry after nearly two years of a pandemic. But the rise of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has put paid to the plans, leaving industry insiders in despair.

No one expected the scenario to become so grim so soon, said Aman Gill, producer of Jersey , who pushed back the release of his film three days before its December 31 date. The sharp spike in Covid cases has put the industry back into reset mode, he said.

“It is just like what we all were doing before Diwali last year. Nobody knows when things will get better and how things will unfold in the coming days and months,” said Gill.

Covid restrictions

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh agreed, saying restrictions in many States and escalating numbers may result in no films releasing in February as well.

“It is a wait and watch situation. As of now, release dates in January have been reshuffled but nothing is known about February and March,” said Adarsh.

The sector was banking big on 2022, hoping the success of Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi , which reportedly earned ₹195 crore, and Hollywood superhero offering Spider-Man: No Way Home (₹202 crore) would continue in the new year.

But that was not to be.

The increase in the number of cases has led to the closure of theatres in Delhi for the third time since March 2020. Shows are also running at 50 per cent capacity in States such as Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.

On Wednesday, the makers of multilingual period drama Radhe Shyam , starring Prabhas and Pooja Hegde, officially postponed the pan-India release scheduled for January 14.

The makers of period action Telugu film Rise Roar Revolt ( RRR ), fronted by South stars Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr, said in a statement that they had no choice but to defer the release.

“As many Indian States are closing theatres, we are left with no choice but to ask you to hold on to your excitement. We promise to bring back the glory of Indian cinema and at the right time, WE WILL,” they said.

The decision to push the release of the film — for which promotions had already begun — wasn’t easy, said Jayantilal Gada, CMD, Pen India Limited, and presenter of the film.

“The decision has been taken after much thought and consideration. Looking at the rise in cases, it is important to save lives and bring the situation under control,” Gada said.


Back-to-back releases

The problems may not end even after the Covid graph comes down.

“The aim is to make sure that the number of cases drops and normalcy return soon so that we can kick start cinema and movies can arrive in theatres. But when that happens, they will definitely clash at the box office with back-to-back releases,” Gada said.

No new film has been released after December 24 last year. According to leading distributor Akshaye Rathi, who runs a chain of cinemas across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, complaining is not an option.

“We have to take this in our stride.

“We are hoping the business doesn’t come to a standstill… To restart from a completely shut scenario is extremely painful and financially exhausting,” he said.

Interest piles up

The release of some films, including Jersey , RRR and Prithviraj , were postponed in the past too, and any further delay will put a burden on interest costs, insiders fear.

“Everybody is losing money as interest costs keep piling up. There is no solution. Some films will wait for a theatrical release and some won’t, keeping their profit and loss situation in mind,” filmmaker Gill said, adding that one can’t put a number to the losses as it will be ascertained post the release.

Terming the circumstances tricky and unexpected, the Jersey producer said, “In India, we don’t know what the impact will be and we are being cautious.”

Film distributors and exhibitors too will incur losses due to the new Covid wave.

Raj Bansal, a multiplex owner from Jaipur, said the industry had been inching closer to recovery after the huge losses it sustained in the last year-and-half.

“It indeed looked like a return to normalcy. With the good business of films like Sooryavanshi , Spider-Man , Pushpa , we felt we are on the right track. We were struggling to reach recovery mode and now losses will continue to happen,” he added.

Hope of recovery

Amid the gloom, there is also optimism that a turnaround will happen soon.

“The uncertainty is all around. Going by the trajectory of the virus in South Africa, we have seen that it settles quickly. We are hopeful it won’t take more than a month or two to settle and we can go back to business as usual,” said distributor Rathi.

And the entire film industry has its fingers crossed that this will indeed happen.

Published on January 08, 2022

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