Movie theatres are in experimental mode. Cinemas in India are opening up from 15 October, after they shut down in mid March, in territories such as West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, and the general idea is that it’s going to take some time before people feel safe enough to go to the movies again.
Carnival Cinema has announced special incentives like slashed ticket rates and free tickets for frontline workers. With most big releases like Tenet, 83 and Sooryavanshi being held for now, theatres are looking at re-releases, including South-Indian language films. In the USA, PVR Cinemas have released three new films, but they are in-house productions of the multiplex chain.
An exception is West Bengal, where the opening up of cinemas happens to coincide with Durga puja, the biggest release date in the Bengali film calendar. The state will see as many as 12 releases on October 21, 10 among them being new films, according to Satadeep Saha, a distributor.
They are Dracula Sir, Rawkto Rawhoshyo, SOS Kolkata, Saheber Cutlet, Guldasta, Love Story, Shironam, Cholo Potol Tuli, Ebhabei Golpo Hok, Doodh Pither Gachh. The re-releases are Brahma Jaanen Gopon Kommoti and Parcel (released earlier this year). The ticket rates will be the same as usual, even though there will be less number of shows owing to sanitisation and execution of other safety protocol.
Saha was critical of the rush to release films and called it “basically a suicide” on the part of the producers. He said it made no business sense to release as many films on the same day, especially at a juncture such as this when cinemas have been shut for more than 7 months. “Hypothetically, if 3 films were to release, they would have collectively earned Rs 3 crore. Now the same Rs 3 crore will be divided between 12 films. It’s a disaster for the industry,” he said, adding that “Cinemas are opening up in a lot of places. But this is a world record. Bengali producers deserve the Nobel prize.”
He blamed it on the “lack of unity” within the Bengali film fraternity. “Unlike Mumbai, where the producers try to sort it out through the Producer’s Association, no such conversations happen here. Everyone announced the releases individually without consulting each other,” said Saha, who is releasing Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer Kedarnath on October 15 in prominent theatres in Kolkata such as New Empire, Jaya, Ajanta and Pushpasree. A producer himself, Saha said that even though he has a film ready for release, he will wait for a later date.
The Pujo date is generally a crowded one; but it doesn’t exceed more than 5-6 new Bengali films; then why is it that during the pandemic almost double the number of films are releasing?
The Pujo date is generally a crowded one; but it doesn’t exceed more than 5-6 new Bengali films; then why is it that during the pandemic almost double the number of films are releasing? Mahendra Soni, co-founder of SVF Entertainment, says that a large number of Bengali films–almost 50–are ready for release and the lack of Hindi and Hollywood releases have provided a rare opportunity for them to get majority of screens. “Most of the time the ratio of Bengali to Hindi is 50:50 or even 20:80. This Pujo, 90 % of the screens will be playing Bengali films,” he said.
It’s important to note here that in recent times, SVF, the biggest production house in Bengal, has had as many as 3 Pujo releases in one year (which sometimes makes it harder for other Bengali films to find screens). But this year they are being careful, keeping a bigger film like Kakababur Protyaborton for Christmas and instead going with the relatively smaller Dracula Sir. “We are also sceptical. We don’t know what will happen if we risk a bigger film now,” said Soni.
While Soni said that “12 films is not the right number” and that there is a lack of coordination among producers in Bengal, the current situation has more to do with the fact that the producers of most of these films are first-timers and are not from a film background. “Another reason is that there are a lot of directors who think they may never get a chance to get a release in Pujo. So it’s a good chance for them,” he said.
Arjun Dutta’s Guldasta has a first-time producer. The film was supposed to release on April 21. According to Dutta, the producers have been keen on a theatrical release, partly for “emotional reasons”. Instead of waiting further, they have decided to take a risk and release it during Pujo. “We feel it’s our best possible bet, because what if halls shut again? Will occupancy go up or go down, we don’t know anything,” he says. Besides, Dutta thinks that the festive mood will work in favour of his film, which he describes as “relatable and light-hearted”.
The films may have to fight it among themselves, but the Bengali film industry is being positive about people’s attitude toward returning to the theatre, including Saha. “I am very confident that people will come to the cinema halls. If you go to a food court of a shopping mall, you will see why,” he said. Soni, who is similarly optimistic, offers numbers to back it. “We run the Lake mall (in South Kolkata) and the food court collections are almost 70 % of pre-covid times. So ideally then why not films?” he says.