Film Companion

With the Mumbai film industry in shutdown due to the COVID – 19 outbreak, shoots have been stalled and releases pushed. It’s not just the big players who will be affected — Bollywood is a massive ecosystem, employing thousands in various unorganised sectors. From on-set caterers to junior artists to stuntmen and other daily wage workers, we bring you a series of short profiles of people who depend on the Hindi film industry for their livelihoods and how the lockdown is poised to affect their business.

Sohel Kazani has been looking after Liberty Cinema, a single-screen theatre in Mumbai, since 2016 and is a partner in the business. He talks about how footfall started dwindling much before the shutdown and how keeping things running is taking a toll on his finances:

“The theatre belongs to the Hoosein family. My father ran it for 35 years before me, in the capacity of a director. When he died, the theatre was shut for a while before the Hoosein family asked me to make it operational again. I spent a crore on renovations, upgrading the technology, the screens, the sound system, repairing everything.

We have a footfall of 16,000 to 17,000 every month, which gives us a gross revenue of Rs 40 lakh. This month the footfall has been around 8,000. Multiplexes weren’t affected as much as the single screens were because they had facilities such as thermal scanners in place so people were still going to them. Single screens have more seats and more people in one hall so the fear of going to one was higher and that hit business.

Now finally everything has shut down. We run in partnership with Carnival Cinemas. They pay the rent, which is around Rs 12 lakh a month, and we share the profits. Now they’ve written to us saying that they won’t pay our rent. They can’t because they themselves have 600 screens to run and paying rent for all is not possible. They don’t have such deep pockets. There’s a force majeure clause (that deals with unforeseen circumstances) in our agreement that makes it completely legal for them to do that.

For us now, it’s a situation of zero revenue, but still having to pay our staff of 20 to 25 people. Middle management gets Rs 25,000, lower management, which is a majority of the staff, gets Rs 15,000. This comes to Rs 4 lakh a month. There are also fixed costs for the electricity and water, which is another lakh. All of this is coming out of my pockets, it’s a major loss. We’ll have to make up for it whenever theatres are operational again.”

As told to Gayle Sequeira

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