Mumbai: The Hindi film industry will take at least two years to recover financially from the coronavirus pandemic sources said Thursday here. The deadly virus is threatening big-ticket projects, putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs.
That was the sombre assessment of about a dozen top producers, distributors and actors. They expressed their views over video interviews.
“Making movies has always been a gamble. Now some of us can pack up for the next year,” said a filmmaker on condition of anonymity. “We will have to beg people to come to cinema halls,” he added.
Box office incomes threatened
Such dim prospects, even after the lockdown is lifted, threaten the box office takings that make up 60 per cent of industry earnings. It has spurred producers to say big-budget films and extravagant shoots in foreign locations will be shelved.
“Films will have a tough time,” said Jehil Thakkar, a partner at accounting firm Deloitte India. “Even after they lift the lockdown, I’d expect the psyche of a lot of people would be to avoid crowded places,” Thakkar added.
The industry has come to a grinding halt, with film production and theatres shut nationwide since lockdown was implemented. About 9,500 theatres are shut. Business at multiplexes and single-screen cinemas is unlikely to bounce back for weeks or even months as infection fears linger.
“Theatres may not open before mid-June on a pan-India level. Normal occupancy may not come back until August,” said Karan Taurani, an analyst.
Plight of filmmakers
Industry figures show India makes 1,200 films in a typical year. However, Taurani sees big-budget movies getting pushed into the next fiscal year, as production houses battle a liquidity crunch. This crunch is mainly due to the falling box office revenues.
For example, the release of, filmmaker Rohit Shetty’s Sooryanvanshi, has been postponed indefinitely from a late March schedule.
“It is likely that even after theatres re-open, only smaller films will be released. This will be done so that producers get a sense of how many people are coming to them,” said Shailesh Kapoor who is also an analyst.
With re-openings unlikely until at least mid-May, and no new releases in the last month, the total loss for the industry would run into millions. Shares in India’s two largest multiplex operators, PVR and INOX Leisure, have plunged more than 40% from all-time highs in late February.
Theatre owners apprehensive
Theatre owners fear that in future they will have to record customers’ names and addresses, check temperatures and ensure sanitization. They will also have to enforce use of masks, and social distancing in halls. However if implemented these norms will certainly downgrade the audience experience while boosting costs.
Top-grossing actors and directors can tap savings to ride out the downturn. However, the effect will hit tens of thousands of ordinary workers who get paid by the project. These include movie extras to dancers, stagehands and technicians.
“Things are pretty bad right now for us, but worse for those who work on our films on a day-to-day basis,” said Vinod Bhanushali. He is the head of marketing for production house ‘T-Series’, which has 12 films stalled by the crisis.
Slump expected in days to come
Industry veterans warn the steepest slump in years may lie ahead for Bollywood. This is because virus infections here, the home of the Hindi movie industry, make up about a fifth of India’s tally.
Sakshi Bhagat’s dreams of becoming a filmmaker lured her to here in 2013 from the northern temple town of Varanasi. The lockdown has been a rude shock to her.
“It’s been so difficult to get payments from production houses for work I did,” said the assistant director. “No one wants to pay,” she added.