KOCHI: As many as 670 movie halls in the state are eagerly awaiting a nod from the state government to resume screening of movies. It has been 10 months since theatres were shut down following the pandemic outbreak. With zero revenue, the owners have had to manage maintenance and other costs on a daily basis. Many of them have retained their employees and have been paying them half the salary every month.
The Film Exhibitors United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) will be meeting the chief minister this week, seeking permission for reopening.
According to the association, each theatre owner has to spend a minimum of `3 lakh per month to maintain the screens. Many neighbouring states have reopened theatres. “We tried to approach the government recently, but because of the election code of conduct, the chief minister didn’t want to hold any discussions. We hope the government grants us permission to reopen. We are ready to comply with all Covid-19 protocols,” said M C Bobby, FEUOK general secretary.
He added that regular maintenance of theatres is a must. “We have to operate the machinery including air conditioners, projectors etc at least for an hour everyday and we need employees for that. We need a minimum of 10 staff for maintaining a screen. Even if we decide to retain the minimum number of staff, around 7,000 and their families who depend on the industry for a living will be affected,” said Bobby.
He said that it will take a minimum of one year to get back to normal.
“Vaccines will give people more confidence to venture out and the theatre industry will revive only when family audiences, especially children, start coming to the theatres. Many other states have started operating with fifty per cent of their seating capacity,” he added. He said that FEUOK wants the government to provide a waiver on electricity charges.
“We want the government to write off the fixed charges on electricity bills. We are ready to pay for the actual consumption. For high-tension connection, the KSEB charges around `65,000 to `75,000. Irrespective of usage, we have to pay this. We also want the government to withdraw the double tax collection,” said Bobby.
Theatre owners are expecting an occupancy of minimum 30 percent after reopening. Vice-president of Ariesplex cinemas Joy M Pillai said that several movies are lined up for release. He added that one seat will be kept vacant on either side of a viewer as part of the Covid-19 protocol.
“We just want the government to allow us to reopen. We are ready to reopen anyday. Booking apps are also being tweaked to ensure booking based on social distancing norms. We haven’t fired any of our employees and we spend around `7 - 8 lakh every month to maintain our screens and pay salary to our employees. In addition to GST, we have to pay entertainment tax and we have given a memorandum to the regulatory commission seeking waiver on it,” said Joy. He added that the base rate of the tickets, which was `100, went up when the GST was introduced on top of the state’s entertainment tax. “After these taxes came into play, the price of a ticket reached `130,” he added.
IFFK stuck in uncertainties
For moviebuffs in the state, the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is a massive event that offers a bird’s eye view of national and international cinema. This year, however, the organising of the festival has been facing uncertainties, as movie screening has not resumed in the state after the pandemic. According to Academy officials, the festival slated for February 2021 will be subject to the evolving Covid-19 situation and Kerala government guidelines to be released around the time. Recently, the cultural affairs department has directed the academy to explore the possibilities of hosting the festival online.
However, according to academy sources, that is not a feasible option. “Even the movies being released on OTT platforms are getting leaked. Piracy is a huge problem we have to tackle while conducting a film festival online. We need to have a very safe platform, and even then, many filmmakers will not be very keen on giving us the movies if the festival is being held online,” said the official.
As per the current schedule, the festival is scheduled from February 12 to 19, 2021. IFFK has received the mandatory nod from FIAPE (International Federation of Film Producers Associations) for the same. According to officials at the Academy, there needs to be more clarity on the organising of the festival.