Indian film industry bets on blockbusters to recover from Covid-19 crisis

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(AFP) – Indian cinemas are counting on a series of blockbusters coming out for the holiday season, like the action movie “Sooryavanshi” in theaters this week, to revive their activity undermined by the Covid pandemic – 18 and divert the public from booming streaming services.

The Hindi film “Sooryavanshi” (The Warrior Clan “), starring national stars Akshay Kumar and Ranveer Singh, is the first Bollywood production to hit the big screen in 18 months. The cinemas were closed in March 2020, under strict containment imposed throughout the vast territory to fight when the coronavirus pandemic began to rage.

They had benefited from a brief lull in the epidemic before to have to close their theaters again last spring when the country was faced with a new wave of extremely ferocious contaminations.

– Revenues decreased by 20% –

According to accounting firm EY, India’s media and entertainment industry revenues fell by 25% at 15, $ 7 billion the last year, and most multiplex channels suffered significant losses.

But the sector is counting on a rebound with the reopening of cinemas across the country, especially in Bombay , capital of Bollywood.

The box office performance of the film “Sooryavanshi”, in which Akshay Kumar plays a counterterrorism chief working to prevent a terrorist attack Bombay, will play an important role of indicator for the most prolific film market in the world.

“This film is crucial for the film industry,” told AFP Rajender Singh Jyala, head of programming for the country’s second network of cinemas, Inox, “the buzz is also very good. ”

Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival in the country, is currently in full swing in India. It is “a very lucrative period” for the industry, Akshaye Rathi, film distributor, told AFP. “Traditionally, this is the time when the greatest films come out,” he continues. from Hollywood’s Marvel franchise, and the drama “Annaatthe” (“Big Brother”) with comedian Rajinikanth, Tamil superstar, revered as a deity in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. On Thursday in Madurai, his fans sprinkled cow’s milk, as a gesture of respect, on the movie posters where his face appears.

As the industry picks up foot, PVR, India’s largest multiplex operator, is opening an open-air rooftop drive-in cinema in Mumbai on Friday, a world first.

– “Huge Backlog” –

According to Komal Nahta, Industry Analyst, the industry faces a “huge backlog” of films with estimated production costs of 40 billion rupees (668 millions of dollars). “At least one major movie will be released every week,” he says.

On Christmas Eve, Reliance Entertainment will release “83 “, a film recounting India’s first World Cup victory in cricket, the country’s king sport, the release of which has been delayed by more than a year.

“In 2019-20, we estimated the box office figures (at 40 millions of dollars), for the pre-Covid period, “said Shibasish Sarkar, former boss of Reliance Entertainment and current president of the Imac group. “For future releases, we hope (and) wish the best” he adds.

In a country where cinema occupies a central place in cultural life, the long closure of cinemas due to the pandemic has encouraged the increase in subscriptions to streaming platforms.

The American giants Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video and Disney’s Hotstar have mainly benefited from online audience growth thanks to the growing popularity of smartphones.

Mr. Jyala d’Inox says he is confident ensuring that the owners of cinemas are not moved by the competition: “people are coming back to the cinemas (…) especially since there are still great films in the pipeline” .

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