When the Tamil Nadu government allowed the reopening of movie theatres in the state on August 23, there were quite a few doubts about whether audiences would return to the big screen like they used to before the pandemic, given that safety was still a concern and the fact that they now had the option of watching films on OTT platforms. But a couple of months later, Kollywood is overjoyed with how audiences have begun to flock to cinema halls. And the festival season has played its part in this return towards normalcy for theatres.

Audiences are returning to our cinemas on the faith of safety and hygiene protocols followed at our cinemas. Post the reopening, Doctor performed really well, clearly proving the fact that audiences are willing to resume their movie-viewing experience when there is a healthy content pipeline. We are already witnessing a 100% jump in daily average footfalls over these two months. Festive months have always been traditionally good for the theatrical business as all the big-banner movies are released during these months. This year, too, we have a good mix of Tamil, Hindi and Hollywood movie line-up such as Sooryavanshi, Eternals, Annaatthe, Borrder and Maanadu. Post cinemas reopening in October 2020 after the first wave, south regional content signalled the revival of the movie exhibition industry, prompting Hollywood and Bollywood producers to take notice and announce their line-up. With new content to watch out for, we are hopeful the movie-viewing experience will resume in a big way as in the past,” says Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Limited.

“People are 100% back at the theatres. Except for Chennai and Chengalpet areas, where we are getting 50-60% of the revenue as compared to pre-pandemic times, the other areas are collecting 80-90%,” reveals producer and distributor G Dhananjayan. People are fed up of having been cooped up in their homes for long, watching films on OTT and missing the big-screen experience, he adds. “While it is no surprise the critically acclaimed Doctor is getting phenomenal response, Aranmanai 3, too, is getting good revenue despite the mixed reviews, which clearly shows that people want to experience films in theatres. People want to step out with their families, enjoy the movie, have popcorn and celebrate. The kind of crowd at the canteen counters in theatres is proof of people’s willingness to come to the theatres. Considering that theatrical business opened up only in September, the kind of footfalls and revenues we are seeing is a very, very good sign. If Annaatthe and Enemy turn out to be good, the overall business is likely to get back to 80-90% of pre-pandemic levels, given that we have the 50% occupancy mandate. By Pongal, when we are likely to have 100% occupancy, the business would have returned to normal,” he opines.

Compared to during the first lockdown, in the second lockdown, we had films releasing on OTT on a consistent basis. So, there was a concern if the viewing habits of the people might have changed. The initial couple of weeks were lacklustre, but following the success of Kodiyil Oruvan, things changed. Sivakumarin Sabatham and Rudra Thaandavam had good openings, though they couldn’t capitalise on that because of average content. But Doctor has shown that when you give them good content, audiences are willing to watch movies on the big screen without any fear about COVID-19. It is going to be Sivakarthikeyan’s biggest money spinner after Remo. And Aranmani 3, too, has become a hit! The Hollywood releases, from Fast & Furious 9 to Conjuring: : The Devil Made Me Do It, have also mostly done well. This only shows that audiences are ready to come to theatres. In fact, there was an uncertainty if family audiences would embrace movie-going because of the pandemic and the OTT releases. But it is family audiences who are coming for Doctor and Aranmanai 3. When compared with that of the first lockdown, footfalls have been higher following the reopening of theatres after the second wave of COVID-19,” says Naganathan, a distributor.

Now, the industry is extremely positive about the Diwali weekend, say industry insiders. “It is almost like we have returned to the pre-pandemic normalcy. Almost all films are getting sold, and distributors who were wary so far have once again gotten back into the business. A film like Maanaadu, which has opted for a release on November 25 (instead of the previously announced Diwali date), has become hot property as it will be a solo release now. Since Diwali falls on Thursday, we will have a four-day weekend, so it’s going to be a good Diwali at the box office,” says Naganathan and adds, “The festival period usually boosts revenues of movies by 25-40%. During the festival days, people will be keen on stepping out, and will be in a celebratory mood. A big festival like Pongal or Diwali can result in a 40% increase while festivals like Vinayagar Chathurthi lead to 30% increase in revenue. Sivakumarin Sabatham saw its highest single-day collection (` 2 crores) on Gandhi Jayanthi, a government holiday.

This Diwali will see Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe and Vishal and Arya’s Enemy hitting screens. Predicting that Annaatthe is likely to release in 550-600 screens and Enemy in 300 screens, Dhananjayan says, “Like in 2019, when we saw both Bigil and Kaithi turning successful, the trade is optimistic that both these films will succeed.”

“Annaatthe is coming with a lot of expectations… Rajinikanth doing a film set against the rural backdrop after a long time, the huge star cast, a proven director (Siva) and the promotional muscle of the production house. So, it is guaranteed to be a success. And Enemy will appeal to city-centric audiences. So, having two distinctly different movies during Diwali is actually good news for the trade,” says Naganathan.

The situation looks hopeful even for multiplexes, which are yet to return to normalcy because they are strictly enforcing 50% occupancy (unlike many single screens) and also haven’t gotten multi-language content to fill all their five or six screens, he adds. “With Suryavanshi, the first big Bollywood release after the lockdown, and the Hollywood superhero film Eternals releasing during the Diwali weekend, multiplexes are also likely to recover,” he states.


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