Tamil Nadu, on Monday, became the first State to allow cinema halls to operate at 100 per cent seating capacity. The announcement came as a big boost to the battered Tamil film industry that has more than 40 films ready for release.

“The move will really help revive Tamil film industry,” Producer and Distributor G Dhananjayan said, adding, “It's a chicken-egg situation. If 100 per cent occupancy is not allowed, big films are not going to come, and if there are no big releases, audiences will not come to theatres.” The government's decision comes close on the heels of a meeting between actor Vijay and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami during which the actor is believed to have urged the government to allow full seating. Vijay’s Master and Silambarasan’s Eeswaran , which are set to hit the screens on January 13, will be early beneficiaries of this move — a Pongal gift, literally.

‘Decision justified’

While the film industry is jubilant, several people took to social media to express their shock as the decision comes at a time when a new ‘more infectious’ strain of coronavirus is spreading across the country. However, virologists allayed such fears. “From 99,000 cases per day during one point, the number of cases has now come down to around 19,000 a day. At some point we have to bring normalcy back. Therefore, if you ask if the decision is justified, to a certain extent ‘yes’,” said former CMC hospital virology head and eminent virologist Dr T Jacob John.

He also added that the probability of a super-spreader event inside a theatre was less. Dr Subramanian Swaminathan, Director, Department of Infectious Diseases & Infection Control at Global Gleneagles Health City, Chennai said increasing the seating capacity is fine as long as theatres ensure usage of masks, which is the single-most powerful intervention in preventing the virus transmission. “We are already flying flights with all seats being taken so how is this going to be different?” Swaminathan asked.

Veteran film exhibitor Abirami Ramanathan said theatres would take care to follow all government SOPs to ensure safety of the audience.