The Karnataka government has released the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for screening of movies, ahead of cinemas and multiplexes gearing up to reopen from Thursday with stringent safety protocols. These establishments have already taken measures, but were waiting for the state’s SOP after the central government released its guidelines. While general guidelines include social distancing, sanitisation and wearing of masks, they specify that only 50 per cent of audience should be allowed in. They also include staggered show timings to avoid crowding on the theatre premises. Seats not to be occupied should be marked accordingly and mentioned during online booking as well.
Only asymptomatic individuals will be allowed to enter and all the visitors will be checked with thermal scanners. The AC temperature inside the theatre should be set at 24-30 degrees Celsius. The humidity should be between 40-70%. However, theatres should avoid re-circulation of air as much as possible, the SOP stated.
Efforts should also be made to avoid overcrowding during intermission in common areas, lobbies and washrooms and longer intermission is encouraged for movement row-wise in a staggered manner.
Apart from this, dos and don’ts should be listed at prominent places, such as online sale points, digital tickets, public areas like lobbies, washrooms etc. Public service announcements on wearing masks, social distancing and hygiene measures should be made prior to screening, during intermission and end of the screening.
The SOP also states that strict action can be taken by the auditorium manager and the local authorities for unruly behaviour. Only packed food and beverages will be allowed, and delivery of food and beverages will be prohibited inside the theatre hall.
Large multiplexes are leaving no stone unturned to tempt movie buffs back to the big screen. Some of the elaborate arrangements include distributing PPE kits and disposable 3D glasses.
While the choice of protective gear has raised eyebrows with many arguing that PPE kits should be reserved for doctors, nurses and those at the frontline fighting COVID-19, citizens themselves are unsure of whether they would like to watch a film masked and gowned.
Both the Union and State governments have permitted cinemas to resume operations from October 15 onwards, with 50% seating capacity.
Multiplexes, including INOX and PVR, are making PPE kits available at counters for customers, who will have to shell out extra for them. “Wearing of PPE kits is optional. We have also put in place amenities to ensure that the kits are safely disposed of once used,” said one multiplex owner.
Other measures put in place include sanitising of seats after every show and daily mandatory health screening for all employees who will be in protective gear. To avoid crowding, staggered and different entry and exits, extended interval time, QR code and mobile-based food ordering system, dedicated food ordering and pick-up counters, contactless payment system and encouraged online bookings have been put in place.
A senior representative from INOX said that they will resume screenings at Lido Mall and Brookfield Mall from Thursday. Other INOX screens will gradually resume within the next 10 days. PVR Cinemas will have “goodwill screenings” for company employees, health workers, police force and others on Thursday, and will open to the public from Friday.
Arun Kumar B.S., owner of Santosh Theatre and past president of Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI), said that positive experiences from cinema goers will be the game changer. Santosh theatre is all set to resume operations from Friday with the screening of the late Chiranjeevi Sarja starrer Shivarjuna. “All the precautionary measures, according to government guidelines, are in place. We are trying our best to provide a safe movie watching experience,” Mr. Kumar said.
Uday Garudachar, owner of Garuda Mall chain, said elaborate arrangements have been made to welcome customers. “With this, we are expecting business to pick up by Dasara and Deepavali, after which we will have Christmas and New Year. Let us hope that by that time, COVID-19 subsides,” he added.
Slow and steady approach to reopening theatres
Only a select number of single-screen halls will open across Karnataka at first, including some of the ‘main theatres’ in Gandhinagar, the epicentre of Kannada film industry activities.
KV Chandrashekhara, Karnataka Film Exhibitor’s Association president, says, “We are not looking at opening all cinema halls right away. We are not sure if audiences will venture out to watch films that are being re-released in the first few weeks of cinema halls reopening. But we are confident of opening most halls by October 30, by which time we will probably be able to release new films too.”
Starting with re-releases to gauge audience response
Producer and distributor Jack Manjunath, who is re-releasing two films, says, “This is a big litmus test for the bigger releases that are lined up. Right now, we are not looking for profits and are keeping ticket prices as low as Rs 40 for second class and Rs 50 for balcony to bring audiences back and build their trust in the cinema hall experience.”
Producers seek monetary rebates for a year
Filmmaker K Manju from the Karnataka Film Producers’ Association says, “There has been a 50% reduction in the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) from Qube till the end of the year, but this pandemic will go on for many more months. We want the fee to be reduced further and maintained all through next year too.
On its part, Qube has waived VPF on library titles (re-releases), with only delivery charges being applicable. Prabhu BMA, Senior Vice President – Mastering & Content Services, Qube Cinema says, “Though the impact has been adverse with the entire eco-system of the cinema business, we want to pass on whatever is possible from our side to revive the industry and help producers release their films.”
Masks and temperature check mandatory for entry
Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas, says, “We are set to reopen in a phased manner, starting October 16. The focus now, is on rebuilding the trust of customers.” All exhibitors we spoke to said that moviegoers will not be allowed entry without masks, which can be purchased at the counter, and temperature check.
Going the digital way
Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure Ltd, says, “The focus will be on digital tickets. Each guest will receive an SMS, which will have four links – the first one will allow check-in with a QR code, the second will show you the auditorium’s seat chart and the location of your seat, so that you don’t have to ask around. The third will provide access to the F&B menu to place your order, and the fourth will allow you to download your e-ticket with all the details.”