It's back to the movies in West Bengal from 1 October

The state government green signals opening of cinema halls. Will others follow?

MUMBAI: Cinema owners in west Bengal are heaving a sigh of relief. West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee today announced that cinema halls can start screening films for the public come 1 October.  In the process, it has become the first state government to give the green signal to the beleaguered cinema exhibition sector which has been shut since March 2020 and has run up huge losses.

However, screenings will be limited to 50 participants and cinema halls will have to follow strict safety protocols such as masks, sanitisation, physical distancing and other precautionary procedures. Along with film screenings, jatras, plays, open-air theatres, and shows related to music, dance and magic shows will also open from 1 October. Banerjee said the decision was taken as another step to take living to near normalcy.

Bengali actors, the Eastern India Motion Pictures Association and the Multiplex Association of India  (MAI) – have repeatedly beseeched the state government to  give the sector the go ahead to start operating again. The state has reported 4,700-odd Covid related deaths with 244,000 getting infected and 214,000 recovering. Around 3,200 new cases are being recorded daily.

Producers and distributors have been releasing films direct to OTT over the past few months in order to cut their losses. It’s quite probable that some of them will start looking at the big screen again.

Commenting on the development, SVF co-founder and director Mahendra Soni said: “We are happy and welcome Didi’s announcement. This is a huge relief for the exhibition industry. Having said that to restart the actual business the re-opening has to happen at a national level otherwise there would difficulty running the theatre operations without new film releases. I am hoping to get some kind of announcement from central government too. "

"As far as SVF Cinemas is concerned we are waiting for detailed guidelines and safety protocols before we decide on the opening date. We will open as soon as possible once we have the official notification along-with do’s and don’ts," he added.

With West Bengal opening up movie theatres, will other state governments follow? The MAI, for one, is hoping they will, sooner than later.  

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