Anirban Roy Choudhury

Eros, Zee Studios delay theatrical releases; worrying signs for Indian cinema

Eros International delayed the release of 'Haathi Mere Saathi', Zee Studios postponed 'Puaada'.

'Sooryavanshi', '83', 'Prithviraj', 'Radhe', 'Gangubai Kathiawadi', 'Jayeshbhai Jordaar', 'Brahmastra' and 'Laal Singh Chaddha' are a few big-budget Hindi movies listed to release this year. It is with these releases on the backdrop, the experts predicted FY22 to be a "blockbuster year" for Indian Cinema.

Yet to enter the new financial year, and there is already a cloud of uncertainty looming large, at least, over the Hindi cinema industry. The number of COVID cases are leapfrogging with more than 30,000 testing positive in a day in Maharashtra which also happens to be one of the key markets for theatrical revenue.

Each time there is a spike in the number of people testing positive for the virus, probability of a lockdown haunts breadwinners. The likes of PVR, Inox, Cineplex were spending heavily to enhance the penetration of screens in India. With 9,440 screens (3150 multiplexes and 6290 single screen), India is one of the most underpenetrated when it comes to theatre exhibition business. The expansion plans are on hold as the theatre chains are forced to incur humongous losses.

In 2020, films released directly to the video on demand streaming platforms. 2021, they were looking at recovery but the current scenario with COVID numbers heading north and very few high-budget films willing to release, cinemas are reeling under crisis and projecting uncertainty.

Zee Studios announced that it will delay the release of its Punjabi film 'Puaada'. "Due to the rising cases of COVID 19 and new guidelines for cinemas, with weekend and night closures of theatres, we have decided to postpone our movie Puaada until further notice," stated Zee Studios in a statement.

Girish Johar
Girish Johar

"This is somewhat worrisome," says film analyst Girish Johar. "As things were pushed doubly hard to come onto a normal track, the rising cases have left everyone in the lurch. Of course, audiences safety is of utmost priority hence this move. We can just hope it does not slow down the journey to recovery," he adds.

Not only Zee Studios, another large player in film production and distribution business, Eros International has also made a similar announcement. "Dear viewers, It pains us to share this news but given the Covid-19 situation in the Hindi markets, the team of Haathi Mere Saathi has decided to hold on to the release of the film. We shall keep you posted on further developments," read the released statement.

Will these announcements derail the recovery process? "Not derailing, but delaying," says Naveen Chandra, CEO, Mumbai Movie Studios. He adds, "Businesses that serve audiences in clusters will have to live with the virus. This uncertainty is in all probability likely to continue for some time. There is no evidence that theatres spread the virus from anywhere in the world."

Naveen Chandra
Naveen Chandra

A couple of executives in the cinema business also echoed the same thought. "Theatres with all the deep cleaning and sanitisation are the safest zones in the malls and highstreets," vents out one senior executive at one of the chains. "There is a perception that cinemas only deal with luxury and it is something that can be shut down any time. There are lakhs who depend directly and indirectly on the cinemas. Howcome there is no problem in regional markets like South and East?" the executive questioned.

Chandra informs that markets like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have seen good audiences for recent releases. Eros International, in its statement mentioned, it will be releasing the Telugu and Tamil versiin of 'Haathi Mere Saathi' -- 'Aranya' and 'Kaadan' in the South markets on March 26.

"Hindi films face a peculiar requirement of a national release. With states in partial lockdown, they get affected the most. Regional language films don’t have to worry what’s happening in the next door neighbor state or at the national level," concludes Chandra.