CORONAVIRUS AND ITS ONSLAUGHT ON CINEMA

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Image Credit: Business Standard

SHILPA ROY

Yes, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Zee5 is cool but what about the fun of going out with friends and family to watch a movie in a theatre. With coronavirus outbreak and the nationwide lockdown, though certain relaxations are permitted in Lockdown 4.0 by the government, yet cinema halls are not allowed to re-open. The Cannes Film Festival, which is the biggest international film festival which was about to be held between May 12 and 23, was declared to be postponed on March 19, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is to be noted here that throughout history, Cannes had only been re-scheduled by French Revolution or by World War II. Even next year’s Oscars are supposed to be postponed due to the disruption caused by coronavirus in Hollywood. In China, just after weeks of the first case of coronavirus were being detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the cinemas were closed leading to the loss of US$2 billion by March 2020. In Italy as a result of the pandemic on March 8, 2020 the movie theatres were ordered to be closed leading to a drop in box office by 94%. On March 12 Qatar also closed all cinemas, so did the US on March 17, Malaysia and Thailand on March 18, the UK on March 20, Australia and New Zealand on March 22 and Singapore on March 27. After the emergency was declared in Tokyo and six other areas in Japan on April 7, more than 220 cinemas were closed. It was predicted in early March 2020, that the global box office could lose US$5 billion as a result of the pandemic.

In India, the media consulting firm Ormax predicted an impact of 15-20 per cent loss on Bollywood films. The Rs 183 billion Indian film industry is going through its worst phase because of the lockdown. COVID-19’s first impact was seen when Reliance Entertainment on March 12 postponed Rohit Shetty’s film Sooryavanshi. The makers of Sooryavanshi were expecting massive box office success because the release was strategically planned to coincide with a national holiday in India. Similarly, it was with that 83, director Kabir Khan’s sports biopic about India’s World Cup winning cricket team, starring Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone. The premiere was to be screened on 10 April. Even actress Kangana Ranaut had to wrap up shooting for her film Thalaiva. Salman Khan’s Radhe and Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s much awaited Brahmastra, Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey, a remake of the Telugu hit, Sanjay Leela Bhansali Gangubai Kathiawadi, Karan Johar’s much-awaited period drama Takht was all set to be released.

The effect of COVID-19 was felt when film bodies including Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees (FWICE) and Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association (IFTDA) decided to halt shooting of movies, TV shows and web series. Major production houses like Balaji Motion Pictures, Dharma Production and Yash Raj Films also immediately called off all production activity. According to a report by the Financial Express, the film industry faced a decline of 29.1 per cent to Rs 1062.4 crore in the first quarter of 2020.

Even Hollywood is not saved from the clutches of the pandemic, the 25th James Bond film, MGM’S No Time To Die, was slotted from April to November, Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II, Disney’s Mulan, Marvel’s Black Widow and DC Wonder Woman 1984 have all been delayed. The months of January-February was exciting with Tanhaji, Chhapaak, Street Dancer 3D, Panga, Malang, Bhoot and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, the coming months were expected to be fun-filled, but the real scenario was contrary.

Trade Analyst, Girish Johar raised concern over how the release schedule will linger till 2021 and that the entertainment industry had already lost more than a thousand crores for the lockdown. With about 9,500 shuts, the business at multiplexes and single screen cinemas are grossly affected. The shares of India’s two largest multiples operators, PVR and INOX have plunged more than 40%. The cinema halls may not be in the best position even after reopening, because very few people will go to the movie theatres even after lockdown ends as a result of the fear of infection in people’s mind. The hardest hit of the lockdown are the daily wage earners of the film industry. So has been the case with daily soaps or television reality shows but Doordarshan’s plan of re-telecasting iconic shows like Ramayana, Mahabharat etc has prompted other channels to bring back their popular shows like Hum Paanch, CID, Siya Ke Ram, Devo Ke Dev Mahadeva, Radha Krishna etc. Doordarshan saw a 650 per cent growth in viewership in one week, and became the most-watched channel for two consecutive weeks.

If I am asked to mention one beneficiary of the lockdown, it will be the OTT streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Voot, Zee5 etc. To keep pace with the demand, big players like Amazon and Netflix shifted to standard definition from HD to reduce the load on bandwidth. Some of the most anticipated films across all genres all set to be released on Amazon Prime Video. The films that are set for release are: ‘Gulabo Sitabo’, ‘Shakuntala Devi’, ‘Ponmagal Vandhal’, ‘Penguin’, ‘French Biryani’, ‘Law’ and ‘Sufiyum Sujatayum’. The theatrical release of many Hollywood movies is cancelled and they are all set to be released online. An American Pickle is to be released on HBO Max, Beastie Boys Story-IMAX on Apple TV+, Artemis Fowl on Disney+, Clouds on Disney+, Enola Homes on Netflix, Hamilton on Disney+, My Spy on Amazon Prime Video.

It is pertinent to note here that with audiences getting used to watching digital content online from the comfort of home, the film fraternity need to give them something extraordinary brilliant that will bring them to the movie theatres. India being a very traditional entertainment market, releasing a film in the cinema hall to get the box office validation is very significant. No doubt digital consumption will see rapid growth due to the lockdown but we can’t deny the fact that it has proved to be a bane for cinema. OTT’s has been like the silver lining during the dark cloud of the lockdown. With strict social distancing norms, people are forming a habit of binge watching movies from the comfort of their home. I am afraid that this habit would result in the new normal of staying indoors and adapting an isolated lifestyle.

Movies can reinvent themselves, improve their content and also earn money by going online but what about those sections of the society who, forget OTT, they cannot afford even internet connectivity. Is cinema expected to cast an influence only on the elite class? Online portal definitely provides us temporary solace but nothing can replace human interaction. Even interacting with the most hardcore introverts made me come to the conclusion that OTT’s are okay, but nothing can match the happiness of watching a movie in a big theatre, in a big screen. Just like any other adversity, this pandemic shall too pass and we will again throng to the theatres to watch the people who breathe life into the movies.

Disclaimer: Views are personal

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