India Cinemas Reopen to Small Audiences After Months in Dark
Seven months after screens went dark, cinemas reopened Thursday in much of India with mostly old titles on the marquee — a sign of the country’s efforts to return to normal as the pace of coronavirus infections slows but also of the roadblocks that remain
The return to movie theaters comes as India is registering the highest number of daily cases globally and is expected to soon top the list worldwide in terms of the total number of reported infections, passing the United States. But trends also suggest the spread is beginning to slow.
Nearly 10,000 theaters closed in mid-March when the government imposed restrictions to fight the virus, which has torn through India and is blamed for more than 110,000 deaths. Cinemas are among the last public places to reopen — a hugely symbolic move in a country known the world over for the lavish productions pumped out by its Bollywood film industry.
On Thursday, however, movie theatres struggled to lure the public back. Many ran shows for small audiences.
In the capital of New Delhi, one cinema attracted a little more than two dozen people for its late afternoon show. Most of the moviegoers included guards and the housekeeping staff of the shopping mall that houses the theater.
Every year, the $2.8 billion industry produces more than 2,000 films that feature complex dance routines, singing, and spectacularly large casts, serving to unite a diverse nation of 1.4 billion people. The industry’s success over the years has embedded moviegoing into India's contemporary culture and been a boon for the economy, which, since the pandemic began, has nosedived to its slowest growth on record.
But even if theaters are reopening, filmmaking hasn't rebounded. Reeling from zero box-office returns in this pandemic year, Indian filmmakers have so far not lined up any new big-ticket releases and have pushed any films they have made directly to online streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Such struggles can be seen the world over as the pandemic has devastated the entertainment industry. Earlier this month, a major American movie theater chain said it would temporarily shutter hundreds of locations in the U.S. and the U.K.
Movie theaters pose some of the biggest infection risks since they put people in a closed space, where the virus can spread easily, for an extended period of time.
To minimize the danger, Indian cinemas have separated seats, staggered showtimes and are encouraging digital payments. Masks and temperature checks are mandatory.