In Kolkata, reopening of theatres fails to enthuse crowds

We are expecting crowds to come in only during Durga Puja, say owners

The city on Thursday saw a token reopening of its cinema halls after a gap of nearly seven months as only two theatres resumed business with safety protocols in place. The remaining will open either on Friday — when new films are traditionally released — or during Durga Puja.

The theatres that reopened included INOX at Swabhumi, on the fringes of Salt Lake City, and Rupmandir in Belghoria. While the films screened at INOX included one new release, Ebhabei Golpo Hok; the single-screen Rupmandir reopened with reruns of Dwitiyo Purush and Sushant Singh Rajput’s Kedarnath.

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For these theatres on Thursday, it was not so much about getting audiences back but more about finally being able to reopen after almost seven months — a better part of the year. Theatres across the country had shut in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and only a small number of them reopened on Thursday, including nearly 70 across West Bengal.

“Eight people had booked tickets for the noon show but the tickets could not be issued for technical reasons, so I had to cancel the show. For the matinee show, when we screened Dwitiyo Purush, there were only two people in the theatre. For the evening show, my staff tell me that about 10 people have entered the hall [to watch Kedarnath], though I am not sure,” Santanu Ray Chaudhuri, who runs the stand-alone Rupmandir, told The Hindu on Thursday evening.

“It was not as if I was expecting people to pour in. As it is people hardly go to [standalone] theatres these days. The idea behind reopening the hall today — I even put posters all over — was to make people aware that we have reopened. I am expecting crowds to come in only during Puja,” Mr. Ray Chaudhuri said.

At INOX, the ticket window remained empty almost the entire morning and afternoon; from time to time, there were people walking in its direction, and just when one thought that they had come to watch a film, they all turned out to be customers of the adjacent wine shop. In the absence of ticket-buyers, local TV channels coaxed some of them to pretend as movie-watchers.

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The theatre, however, strictly followed safety protocols. There were floor markers outside the box office and it was issuing only paperless tickets, that too only for alternate seats. The guard with a metal detector now also held a thermal scanner. No one without a mask is going to be allowed in, and for the negligent, a safety kit — a mask, pair of gloves and hand sanitiser — has been put on sale for ₹30.

A staff said five to seven people were watching Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan and that more people were likely to walk in during the evening, but INOX officially declined to say how many tickets were sold for Thursday. A spokesperson, however, said INOX would soon be offering private screenings for small groups — of friends and families — and would also introduce immunity boosters, such as turmeric latte, in its menu.

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