Cinemas are finally back in action today. Where the exhibitors are heaving a sigh of relief, it's not lost on them either that content alone will no longer be able to lure people back to the movies. Two days before the reopening of theatres in Maharashtra, we paid a visit to PVR's new luxury property in Bandra Kurla Complex. With this endeavour, Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR, hopes to start a new concept in movie-viewing mdash one that he describes as 'movie-cation'. What does that entail, you ask? Private screening rooms called The Loft, artisanal coffee, menus curated by chefs from five-star hotels, an elaborate sushi section, and vegan desserts handcrafted by Parisian patisseries. Clearly, theatre owners are amping up their game to ensure they don't lose out in the race against OTT platforms. But we'll get to that later. When we begin our conversation with Dutta, the obvious question is: How did cinemas survive the past one-and-a-half years? 'We knew we would bounce back. People had said movie halls will shut down when the Indian Premier League started, and when piracy [hit the industry]. Now they say the same because of the OTT [boom]. Over the past 18 months, we saw severe salary cuts, but we didn't lay off people. We raised money through capital, equity and loans. Our leaders liquidated assets, but better days were bound to come,' states Dutta.
Many filmmakers expressed solidarity with exhibitors by holding off the release of their movies. The line-up ahead is impressive, with Akshay Kumar's Sooryavanshi, Shahid Kapoor's Jersey, Ayushmann Khurrana's Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Ranveer Singh's 83 and many more awaiting their turn at the marquee. On their part, the theatre owners are pulling out new tricks from their bags.
We're no longer in the business of showing movies. We wanted this property to be like a seven-star hotel, where people can [come and rejuvenate].'
Pricing could be a matter of concern, at a time when the spending power of people is probably at an all-time low. He counters that, saying, 'We will have schemes and introductory offers to lure people back. When we started gold class and recliners, people said nobody would pay for those. Even now, those are the first seats to go. Property investments essentially are for posterity. We have a long-term vision of expanding the experience.'
Four biggies are lined up for the first week mdash Daniel Craig's No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Dune and Bell Bottom. All eyes though are on Kumar's cop caper that will hit the screens on Diwali. 'The whole circuit will [hopefully] come alive, like the Punjab market did with Diljit Dosanjh's Honsla Rakh. The market is registering better numbers than what it did pre-pandemic.'
The coming months will determine whether the measures will be enough to draw audiences, who are now accustomed to having movies only a click away. Surprisingly though, Dutta doesn't view OTT entertainment as its competitor. 'People who consume more OTT, consume more cinema. Data proves there is co-relation. We [function] as parallels, and not as one versus the other. That said, filmmakers want their movies to open on the big screen.' Not long ago, some cinema chains were in conversation with Netflix and Amazon to bring OTT content to the big screen. 'We felt we could host special screenings of pilots and finales. But to have 10-hour binge-athons felt too laborious. The length of the episodes is the roadblock. Hopefully, that will happen in the near future. Shershaah, after all, premiered at Chanakya in Delhi.'
Dutta is hopeful that the earlier routine of Fridays will return. Sharing an analogy, he says, 'I put on weight every time I eat sweets. So I ask my wife not to bring sweets home. Movies are just like that box of sweets. Mithai ka dabba kholne ki deri hai.'