KARACHI: Starting Monday, theaters and cinema halls across Pakistan will be allowed to reopen, but theater owners are not sure if they will be able to implement the government’s antivirus procedures.
As the government lifts antivirus restrictions on the hospitality and recreation sectors, business owners must adhere to strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Many cinema houses may not be able to cope with the new SOPs, which includes ensuring a limited seating capacity, and would rather wait for conditions to normalize completely,” Nadeem Mandviwalla, owner of Atrium Cinemas in Karachi and Centaurus Cineplex in Islamabad, told Arab News.
Even if the plan worked, he said, the reopening for many may be unprofitable.
“It would be difficult to meet the costs if we sell tickets at the same price. It would take three to four weeks to work on how to implement the SOPs and which films with minimum duration can be screened.”
Mandviwalla added it could take six to seven months for cinema industry stakeholders to adjust to the “new normal” also because film production work had been put on hold due to coronavirus lockdowns imposed in March.
“At the moment, expecting something fresh on the screens is impossible as all producers are waiting for things to get normal. So, till then, we would have to rely on to re-runs of Pakistani and Hollywood movies,” he said, adding that he’s not expecting for it to be a win-win situation since audiences have access to ample content on Over The Top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
With nearly 160 cinemas across the country, with an average seating capacity of 150 persons each, watching movies is a popular pass time in Pakistan.
Satish Anand, a renowned film distributor who owns the franchise, said that while watching content on OTT platforms might be the latest trend, it was too early to rule out the importance of watching movies through the traditional practice of going to a cinema.
“We have to gain the trust of cinema-goers by ensuring their safety and selling tickets on discounted or reduced prices,” he said, “The outcome of the decision will be visible in early September, but I believe all stakeholders of the cinema industry such as producers, distributors and exhibitors should sit together and set new goals of profit and loss,” he said.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Anand himself had to postpone the release of four films.
Out of the 54 films released last year, 23 were locally made, six were from across the border in India, while the rest were from the US.
According to Anand, Pakistan’s film industry could currently either take Hollywood’s route — which has moved its releases to next year — or settle for reruns of old films.
Mandviwalla says he would prefer to do that instead of “incurring more losses.”
“In France, reopened cinemas had to close down after going into losses. I would prefer to keep it closed and not get anything instead of going into loss by restating my business in unviable conditions.”