Screens open, but seats empty

- February 4, 2021
| By : Shaunak Ghosh |

Despite the government allowing theatres to function at full capacity, a lack of big releases has people doubting if they want to return amidst a pandemic   The 12.30 pm show on February 2, Screen 4 of PVR CitySelect Mall was completely empty, not a soul in sight. The seats were empty, and even the […]

Empty seats are seen at a movie theatre as the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues in Mumbai, India on July 15, 2020. (Photo by Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Despite the government allowing theatres to function at full capacity, a lack of big releases has people doubting if they want to return amidst a pandemic


The 12.30 pm show on February 2, Screen 4 of PVR CitySelect Mall was completely empty, not a soul in sight. The seats were empty, and even the popcorn counters were empty.

“Today hardly 40 people booked tickets the entire day”, says Rahul Jain, one of the managers at the theatre. Incidentally the capacity of the multiplex is 1,000.

This was the first day that screens opened to a full capacity, after the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting orders.

This has been the same ever since the theatres opened in October with 50% capacity in October, says Jain. Seats are hard to fill, and the theatre earnings are at an all-time low. “We are doing less than 20% of the business that we usually do”, he says.

The main reason, he says, is that there have not been any big-ticket movies in theatres ever since cinemas reopened. “There hasn’t been that big Bollywood movie starring the likes of the Khans, Akshay Kumar or Ranveer Singh that have arrived at the theatres”, he says.

This, he says, is likely to continue until there is such a release. “We are eagerly waiting for big-ticket movies like Sooryavanshi and 83 to come to our cinemas. These movies have been ready for release before the pandemic hit. I urge the producers to release them as soon as possible to have some sort of revival for cinemas”, he adds.

Incidentally, Reliance Entertainment, the producers and distributors of both the movies, have said that they are looking to release at least one of the two films by the beginning of April. “Why wait for such a long time?”, questions Jain.

But has it been the same story for all movies post the opening of theatres? “People are willing to come to theatres. Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984 and more recently the Tamil film Master have done exceptionally well, even going for packed houses”, adds jain.

According to, the Hollywood tentpole films earned approximately Rs 15 crore each in India alone, while collections from the Delhi-UP region were in excess of Rs 1 crore for both films.

Master, on the other hand, has been the highest grossing movie in India post the pandemic, with collections of over Rs 20 crore in just two weeks, grossing more than Rs 50 lakh in the Delhi-UP region, which is huge considering that it is a non-Hindi language movie.

Tamil film Master did exceptionally well in theatres

“This proves that audiences are eager to watch big releases in the theatres, and I believe that the government allowing 100% occupancy will increase the chances of more producers releasing their big movies in theatres now”, adds Jain. This, he says, will benefit movie theatres in the long run and they can see some sense of normalcy coming back to the theatres.

The question remains: Will people return to cinemas to watch a movie?

Sombuddha Hazra Chaudhury, a resident of Vasant Kunj and an avid movie watcher, who used to watch a movie at a theatre every weekend, has welcomed the decision. “I have visited theatres to watch Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, but to be frank have missed my weekend visits to the theatre. Now, more and more new movies are set to release every week and it looks like that I will be back in the theatres”, he says.

However, Adarsh Gupta, an IT engineer and resident of Gurugram says that 100% occupancy in theatres can prove too risky. “Unless the Coronavirus is fully eradicated, I do not feel safe for me and my family to go to the theatres”. He says that a congregation of so many people at one place can put their health at risk.

Theatre owners are eagerly waiting for movies like Sooryavanshi to come to cinemas

According to the Information and Broadcasting ministry, these are the procedures that must be followed to ensure safety inside movie theatres:

Adequate physical distancing of at least 6 feet to be followed outside the auditoriums, common areas and waiting areas at all times.

Use of face covers/masks to be made mandatory at all times.

Availability of hand sanitisers, preferably in the touch-free mode, at entry and exit points as well as common areas within the premises.

Respiratory etiquettes to be strictly followed. This involves strict practice of covering one’s mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing off the used tissues properly.

Self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness at the earliest to state and district helpline.

Spitting shall be strictly prohibited.

Installation and use of Aarogya Setu App shall be advised to all. Thermal screening of visitors/staff is to be carried out at entry points. Only asymptomatic individuals shall be allowed to enter the premises.

Provisions for hand sanitisation should be made available at all entry points and in work areas.

Designated queue markers shall be made available for entry and exit of the audience from the auditorium and the premises.

The Exit should be done in a staggered row-wise manner to avoid crowding.

Sufficient time interval between successive screenings on a single screen as well as on various screens in a multiplex shall be provided to ensure row-wise staggered entry and exit of the audience.

Proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises— duly following physical distancing norms shall be ensured.

Number of people in the elevators shall be restricted, duly maintaining physical distancing norms. Efforts shall be made to avoid overcrowding in the common areas, lobbies and washrooms during the intermission.

Audiences may be encouraged to avoid movement during the intermission. Longer intermissions may be used to allow audience seated in different rows of the auditorium to move in a staggered manner.


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