#UnlockCinemaSaveJobs: What will happen to Kolkata single screens?

Many owners of single-screen cinema halls in Kolkata are still skeptical about the revival of the sector in distress even after lockdown. They fear the pandemic has hit the concept of watching movies in a gathering a big blow. But, there’s still hope that the movie theatres will eventually retain the loyal audiences one day. ETimes spoke to several hall owners in Kolkata exclusively to understand the bigger picture and the current scenario of Bengal’s film market.

“We will be scaling down the theatre’s seating capacity while tweaking the sitting arrangement. Screening back-to-back shows won’t be possible as we have keep in mind that people don’t bump into each other,” Navin Chokhani, owner of Navina Cinema in south Kolkata said.

He also believes movies those with big screen appeal can’t be released only on OTT platforms as there are some audience who are keen to return to the theatres in the unlock phase.

“There have always been cine lovers who prefer to watch films on the internet and those who don’t miss a chance to visit the nearby theatres. Producers will have to keep that in mind,” he added, while sharing his views on whether producers will go for OTT if the release of their films gets stalled indefinitely because of the coronavirus crisis.

Arijit Dutta, owner of Priya Entertainments Private Ltd that runs one of the most popular single screen theatres in Kolkata, Priya Cinema on Rashbehari Avenue, says the COVID-19 outbreak came with a huge blow to the already struggling single screens and it will be daunting challenge for them to make a comeback when the government allows cinema halls to reopen.

“When the halls open again, social distancing will be top priority and it will lead to show timings being changed and releases cut down to fewer in number. It’s not possible to say at this moment whether running single screens will be viable options after all this,” Dutta admitted.

He also stated not only hall owners, even the distribution business will suffer the heat because of the crisis which may result in the emergence of many other digital mediums. Dutta feels makers of medium-budget films might have to move on with alternatives, including OTT platforms, if the crisis continues as there will be a lot of things at stake.

“We have to think of ways for sustenance as overdependence on OTT will kill the single screens and the existing distribution model,” he added. However, Arijit Dutta remains positive as he says he isn’t losing all hopes as he has witnessed ups and downs in the sector during his long years in this industry.

Meanwhile, film distributor and hall owner Satadip Saha reveals before the lockdown there were 200 single screens in West Bengal, of which at least 60-70 may never see the daylight again in future.

If major films don’t get the release in cinema halls in the coming days, the single screen sector will be left in coma, a member of Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, the apex body of cinema halls and distributors in the region, has warned.

Suranjan Paul, owner of Minar, Bijali and Chhabighar movie halls, however, is a bit positive as he believes film screenings in theatres will resume one day.

“The release of some films on OTT is nothing but an immediate response to the present crisis but the quality of these screenings can’t even match that of the big screen experience. I believe our loyal audience will return once the situation gets normal,” he said.

Theatrical business is responsible for much of the cine world’s stardom and fame, yet the cinema halls continue to remain closed even if the unlock 4 face began. The Multiplex Association of India has already put out a public appeal to the Government to reopen cinema halls once again with the hashtag #UnlockCinemaSaveJobs trending since morning.

The entire Bengali film industry has also started raising their voice on the importance of the big screen experience. Movie theatres remain shut as part of the government’s unlocking guidelines and cinema owners have already taken to digital protests over the past few months using hashtags like ‘Support Movie Theatres’ and ‘Save Cinema Save Jobs.’