After remaining shut for the last seven months during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, cinema houses in Madurai are gearing up to resume operations from November 10 by following safety precautions issued by the government. However, huge sums of money has to be spent to resume the operations, say theatre owners.
M. Rathinakumar, secretary of Madurai- Ramanathapuram Theatre Owners’ Association, says there are 45 single screen theatres and 10 multiplexes in and around Madurai. “Irrespective of whether it is a small theatre or a big multiplex, all theatre owners were deeply affected in the last seven months due to the closure,” he said.
Association president R. Kannan says discussions were held with theatre owners on Monday regarding movies to be screened. “Though the government has given permission to operate from November 10, most of the cinema houses plan to start operations the following day. It will take a couple of days to start screening regular shows,” he says.
“Complete disinfection and cleaning works are under way at many theatres across the district. However, it will be quite a task to resume operations as huge sums of money must be spent to keep the theatres ready for screening movies and for regular maintenance in accordance with the safety precautions issued by the government,” said a proprietor of a cinema house in the city. “Despite regularly cleaning the theatre during the last seven months, infestation of rats posed a major problem for many theatre owners. The equipment, which remained idle all these months, have to be repaired to restart operations,” he said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers, including the technical staff, who were without work and little income, had quit the the job. So, many theatre owners had to hire new staff before restarting the operations, he said.
“There are so many expenses even when theatres had no income for the past seven months,” says Mr. Rathinakumar. “Although the theatres remained closed, the owners had to pay for electricity charges and salaries to the staff who remained with us every month. Many small theatres are on the verge of bankruptcy,” he says.
S. Govindarajan, manager of Central Theatre, which screens old movies, says it will be expensive to follow the COVID-19 precautionary measures. “Our theatre caters to the poorer sections of the society and the tickets are sold for a maximum of ₹40. But, with this income, we will have to cover the expenses of buying hand sanitisers and completely disinfecting the premises. Nevertheless, we will follow these precautions to ensure the safety of the audience,” he says.
Even before the COVID-19 days, many theatres could fill only 50% of the seats, says Mr. Rathinakumar. “But, we are hopeful that the audience will slowly come back and start watching movies on big screens,” says Mr. Kannan.