In today’s Finshots, we look at the film exhibition business and see why movie theatres in North India are showing dubbed Telugu flicks.


The Story

There’s no easy way to say this. The content pipeline is broken. There is nothing to show right now.

I mean, think about it. Producing new content is extremely challenging considering you have to get a whole bunch of people working together in close proximity. And with a pandemic at large, it’s simply not feasible to just keep doing this. You have to limit gatherings, avoid Covid hotspots, plan for contingencies and quarantines in the event someone contracts the disease. More importantly, you have to allocate a higher budget in order to film under these extraordinary circumstances. For instance, as one article in Odisha Bytes notes 

“As per the state government’s directives (in Maharashtra), the cast and crew on the sets should maintain physical distancing and sanitize themselves often. The production house should provide sanitizers and PPE kits to the crew. A trained nurse and two junior doctors should be present at the film sets during shooting. An ambulance should be kept ready as a precautionary measure. People aged above 60 years should not be allowed on film sets for the next three months. The shooting should be indoors and the studio has to be sanitized daily.”

According to some estimates, costs are expected to rise 10–20%, if the script allows for shooting in a controlled environment. In the case of high budget action flicks, you might have to redo parts of the script or pay a king’s ransom to keep shooting in the midst of a pandemic.

And even if you did shoot an entire movie without hiccups, you still have to make the dreaded choice — Release the movie in theatres and hope people turn up to watch your movie or choose OTT platforms, where compensation is likely going to be a problem. Simply put, production costs are higher. Box office collection is almost non-existent. And if you have to make a call right now, you’ll likely avoid shooting a new movie until conditions improve.

So movie theatres have nothing to show. As one report from ICRA notes 

“The cinema halls are facing the classic ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem when it comes to footfalls and content as consumers are not visiting theatres since there is no fresh and quality content being released, while the film producers (especially Bollywood) are not doing theatrical releases of new big blockbuster films, given the lack of visibility on footfalls. Besides, consumers are also avoiding enclosed air-conditioned spaces in the fear of contracting the virus.”

All in all, ICRA expects revenues in the movie exhibition business to drop by 80–85% this financial year. This really shouldn’t be surprising considering governments only relaxed regulations in October. But here’s the worst part — 45% of India’s movie theatres are yet to open despite being allowed to do so and some might shut shop permanently. But they won't all shutter at the same pace —at least not in Mumbai.

You see  according to the law, single-screen theatres in Maharashtra can only be sold to someone who will continue running a single-screen theatre in the property. You can't covert it into a different commercial establishment. Instead, you have to live and die by this code.

What an absolutely terrible place to be at!!!

Anyway, that being said, how do you even begin to solve a problem like this?

Well, we don't know. But it seems like some single-screen theatres in North India are turning to a pretty unique strategy. According to a story in the Mint, cinema halls in Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and even parts of Maharashtra are playing Hindi dubbed versions of South Indian films. Most notably—Telugu Films, considering they have a massive following on satellite TV. So right now, believe it or not, the fate of several single-screen theatres are dependent on the likes of Allu Arjun and Ram Charan and we can only hope and pray that they come through in stellar fashion.

What a year 2020 is turning out to be, eh?

Until next time...

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