BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
New Delhi, April 4 (IANS) With the escalating pandemic of COVID-19 all around, every aspect of the consumer industry has taken a hit, and in a movie-obsessed nation as India the cinema exhibition industry would seem like an obvious instance. Although the lockdown is still some way from being lifted, many multiplexes and single screens alike are already looking ahead and strategising in order to ensure footfalls do not dip once business is back.
Lesser shows, cross allocation of seating inside theatres, possible limiting of number of tickets sold per show, and ensuring there is no crowd in the lobbies are a few musts that cinema chains hope to implement, besides provision of masks and ready thermometers at the cineplexes.
“We will have to innovate and think differently to ensure social distancing, once the cinemas are back in operation. Cross-allocation of seats is one measure, which would allow us to ensure that two guests are not assigned adjacent seats. Other measure can be to program shows in a manner that intermissions of two shows do not occur simultaneously. This will help us to ensure that the food counters and restrooms do not get too crowded. We may even consider limiting the overall seat allocation for some shows, to control overcrowding. We will ensure that we maintain appropriate distances even at the entrance security checks,” says Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure limited.
Of course, no one is quite sure when things will be normal enough for exhibitors to open doors for the patrons.
“Theatres will certainly not open before the overall situation improves. On our part, we can ensure that we do our two bit to retain the confidence of our patrons. Every industry right now is looking to win back the confidence of the patrons, be it retail, food or cinema,” avers Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas.
For Dutta, the most important thing right now is to create an atmosphere of assurance for audiences to flock back without fear, when the pandemic slows down. Social distancing through rightly-spaced seating arrangement would seem like a given, but there are other aspect to be taken care of.
“Our staff will wear masks and gloves of course, and these will also be handy for patrons. So, if there is someone coughing in the vicinity, you can ask for a mask. There will be thermometers at the entrance, to check every audience member entering the premise across each of our cinemas across the country. We can get a concrete idea of our plan of action only by April-end perhaps, and we will execute all action duly following the government’s advice and notification,” Dutta added.
The challenge can be trickier for single screens, considering they hold a larger number of audience per show. Delite Cinemas on Asaf Ali Road has one of the most prominent old-school single screens in the Capital, along with an elegant, stand-alone mini theatre, Delite Diamond. Manager RK Malhotra of Delite says the priority right now is to be prepared and be patient for the crisis to pass.
“Look at Wuhan. They opened essential services like stores and transport first. Cinemas come way afterwards in the list of priorities because people will not think of venturing out for pleasure unless they feel things are absolutely safe. Of course, on our part, we have to ensure that the percentage of tickets sold is restricted so that there is ample distance of a metre or more between people sitting in the auditorium. Phasing of shows would be important, too, in order to avoid rush and jostling of incoming and outgoing crowds. This is also essential to avoid crowding at the gates and the counters,” feels Malhotra.
The obvious reaction for almost all exhibitors we spoke to has been alike. As members of the film fraternity, having never faced such a situation in a lifetime, no one actually has a foolproof plan as to how to deal with the crisis. At a very basic level, they all talk of ensuring utmost hygiene.
“This kind of situation is unique and demands extraordinary measures. After the end of lockdown when the authorities allow us to open our doors for the public, to counter the spread of the COVID 19, we will follow global hygiene norms and introduce the ‘seat separation’ policies. Sanitisation and deep cleaning of auditoriums in between shows to help facilitate social distancing, will be important. Hand sanitisers have been made available at all touch points in our cinemas since February, and we will keep it that way till the threat of pandemic doesn’t subside,” says Mohan Umrotkar, CEO, Carnival Cinemas.
Seat separation, Umrotkar feels, will be of utmost importance. “The World Health Organisation has suggested maintaining a metre’s distance between people. Depending on the situations, Carnival might restrict the number of maximum ticket buyers per screen. We want to assure our audience that our theatres, seats and concession areas are being thoroughly and frequently cleaned during these times, too. Our in-cinema and security staff shall use masks and gloves and provide the same to patrons on request,” he assures.
The cinema theatres of India are already gearing up for the next battle after coronavirus — one that will ensure they win back the confidence of their patrons once this foul air blows.
BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY