For the owners of the Cinema theatres in Vizag, Covid-19 sounded a possible death knell. Many of the theatres had already been bleeding with the arrival of multiplexes, “high” GST slab for regional films and “fewer blockbusters”. The prolonged shutdown because of the Covid-19 curbs has made reopening a challenge even after the curbs are lifted.
Reopening will mean additional expenditure on sanitation and social distancing, which will put off many owners who are already reeling under a cash crunch. An air-conditioned single-screen theatre – with 400-500 seats – in the city spends at least a few lakhs of rupees per month on salaries, power bills and other fixed cost components. Zero ticket sales for over four months has emptied the coffers of the owners. As a result, many have either curtailed or stopped payments.
“We have never seen such a crisis in the industry in the past .We are paying 50 per cent of the salary to our employees. If the shutdown continues, even that will be unlikely. We might have to opt for a temporary shutdown,” said Prasad Reddy, Manager of Sangam Sarat theatres told to Hello Vizag. The hall employs around 45 people and the salary bill crosses ₹3.5 lakh. Despite the lockdown, the big theatres are getting an average power bill of ₹1.31 lakh and the small ones are getting ₹80,000 a month. The projector has to be operated for about an hour every day.
Many halls may close down unless the government intervenes, a number of owners told Hello Vizag. “There are around 25 cinema theatres in Visakhapatnam. Without government intervention, roughly a fourth of them are staring at permanent shutdown” says J. Madan, president of Visakhapatnam Cinema Exhibitors Association. By government intervention, he meant waiver of municipal taxes and permission to hike ticket prices to tide over the losses to some extent but we are yet to hear from the government on our demands. He also pointed out that even after the halls reopen, they would have to run old films for at least a few weeks. “The producers will want to watch the situation for some time before releasing a film, which entails a huge expenditure on promotions,” he said. The association has been in touch with the state government, seeking support in difficult times.
“Multiplexes are also under pressure because they have to pay huge rents to malls. But many standalone theatres were bleeding even before Covid-19 struck. It will be extremely difficult for them to make a comeback,” said Satish, Manager INOX Chitralayaa.
Most hall employees – projector operators, ushers and others – have been doing only one job throughout their lives. Finding an alternative livelihood is tough. Nagesh, 50, is one of them. Nagesh has been an usher – people who lead viewers to their seats – at Sangam Sarat for 12 years. He is out of work now and has been getting Rs 4,000 a month for the past few months. Dondaparti resident has his parents, wife, a son and a daughter to feed. “We have been living on rice from the ration shop and occasional help from NGOs,” said Nagesh.
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