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Cinemas brace for dull Pongal weekend


Pongal, which is considered the biggest weekend for Tamil cinema, this year is muted for both southern and Hindi film industries. Prabhas’ Radhe Shyam and Ajith’s Valimai scheduled for this weekend, have been postponed, as has period drama RRR that was expected to spill over from its 7 January release. 

The past two years have seen the Pongal weekend throw up massive hits, including Vijay’s Master, Krack, Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji-The Unsung Warrior and Allu Arjun-starrer Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. However, with rising covid cases, delayed film releases and theatres shut in several parts of the country, cinemas are looking at subdued Pongal weekend except for Nagarjuna’s Telugu film Bangarraju and a few smaller titles, including Hero, Rowdy Boys, Naai Sekar, Carbon and others.

Theatre owners said about 70% of their business has been wiped out owing to current restrictions and the month of January, which usually has the potential to make around 1,000 crore at the box office, should settle at 300 crore.

“With November and December auguring very well for the movie entertainment industry, there seemed a semblance of recovery coming back. However, the third wave came unexpectedly and escalated rather quickly through the second half of December, resulting in tightening of rules across states one after another,” Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer at ticketing site BookMyShow said.

The uncertainty around easing of the situation has returned with the industry back in wait and watch mode and several big-budget, large scale movies that were scheduled for the weeks leading to Pongal delayed. “This is unlike 2021 where multiple, large-scale movies were released during the Pongal week much before the second wave hit India and went on to perform incredibly well at the box office including Master (Tamil), Krack (Telugu) and Red (Telugu),” Saksena added.

With the Hindi-speaking market completely shut, it is clear that this Pongal will not be able to replicate the success of the past two years, said Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer at INOX Leisure Ltd. Even though southern language films are known to dominate the festival, the past few years have seen success stories from Bollywood too. In 2019, Vicky Kaushal’s war epic Uri-The Surgical Strike had emerged as a surprise hit, making over 244 crore at the box office. In 2020, Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji had clocked in close to 270 crore. “The only positive is that there are a few southern films releasing. Something is better than nothing,” said Jyala who hopes restrictions won’t last beyond a month this time and that recovery will be faster since audiences have already demonstrated willingness to come back to cinemas.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai agreed the weekend will be dull with many theatres not running all shows, apart from night shows that have been impacted by curfews. “This is the first time in the history of Tamil cinema that there are no big releases for Pongal,” Pillai said. The state, while having allowed theatres to remain open, has capped seating to 50% and imposed night curfews.

Kamal Gianchandani, chief executive officer, PVR Pictures Ltd said while the Pongal offerings seemed much more attractive until a few weeks ago, smaller films will now benefit with more shows and screen time in the absence of big releases. Further, Telangana is still operating at 100% seating capacity while several others like Maharashtra have retained 50% occupancies without shutting cinemas. “What is more worrying is that consumer sentiment gets impacted,” said Gianchandani adding that many of these restrictions including night curfews are not new and may not impact much but the negative reportage around the pandemic can be a deterrent.

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