Seven months after screens went dark, cinemas reopened on Thursday in much of India with mostly old titles on the marquee — a sign of the country’s efforts to return to normal as the pace of coronavirus infections slows but also of the roadblocks that remain.
For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.
The return to movie theaters comes as India is registering the highest number of daily cases globally and is expected to soon top the list worldwide in terms of total number of reported infections, passing the United States. But trends also suggest the spread is beginning to slow.
For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app
Nearly 10,000 theaters closed in mid-March when the government imposed restrictions to fight the virus, which has torn through India, killing more than 110,000 people. Cinemas are among the last public places to reopen — a hugely symbolic move in a country known the world over for the lavish productions pumped out by its Bollywood film industry.
Every year, the $2.8 billion juggernaut produces more than 2,000 films that feature complex dance routines, singing and spectacularly large casts, serving to unite a diverse nation of 1.4 billion people. The industry’s success over the years has embedded moviegoing into India’s contemporary culture and been a boon for the economy, which, since the pandemic began, has nosedived to its slowest growth on record.
But even if theaters are reopening, filmmaking still hasn’t rebounded.
Reeling from zero box-office returns in this pandemic year, Indian filmmakers have so far not lined up any new big-ticket releases and have pushed any films they have made directly to online streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Such struggles can be seen the world over as the pandemic has devastated the entertainment industry. Earlier this month, a major American movie theater chain said it would temporarily shutter hundreds of locations in the US and the UK.
Movie theaters pose some of the biggest infection risks since they put people in a closed space, where the virus can spread easily, for an extended period of time.
To minimize the danger, Indian cinemas have separated seats, staggered show times and are encouraging digital payments. Masks and temperature checks are mandatory.
“We have put everything into place, maybe more than what has been prescribed,” said Gagan Kapur, regional head of the PVR Cinemas in New Delhi.
Still, some Indian states have been cautious.
Authorities in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood, put off reopening cinemas for the time being. The southern state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, is the worst-hit in India, with more nearly 37 percent of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities.
With few new films coming out of Bollywood, theaters on Thursday mostly re-released earlier hits, though one new film, “Khaali Peeli,” a typical Bollywood potboiler, came out.
Older films like “Tanhaji,” a historical epic about a Hindu warrior who rises against the Mughals, “Thappad,” a social drama on domestic violence, and “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan,” a rom-com featuring a gay couple, were played across multiple screens. “PM Narendra Modi,” an unabashed hagiography of the Indian prime minister that was released last year, also ran in some places.
The reopening of cinemas comes as trends suggest a decline in new infections.
India saw a surge in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when the daily infections touched a record of 97,894. It is recording an average of just over 70,000 cases daily so far this month.
But some experts say that India’s tally of more than 7.3 million total infections may not be reliable because of poor reporting and inadequate health infrastructure. India is also relying heavily on antigen tests, which are faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.
Health officials have also warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month.
“The next two and a half months are going to be very crucial for us in our fight against corona because of the winter season and the festival season,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Wednesday. “It becomes responsibility of every citizen to not let our guard down and follow COVID-19 appropriate behavior to curb spread of the infection.”
Coronavirus: India reports lowest number of COVID-19 deaths in 11 weeksIndia has reported its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in nearly three months.Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section ... Coronavirus
India’s Tata Group pulls jewellry ad featuring Hindu-Muslim family after backlashA subsidiary of India’s tea-to-telecoms Tata Group has withdrawn a jewellry advertisement featuring a Hindu-Muslim family celebrating a baby shower, ... Advertising & PR
At least 30 killed from heavy rains in southern IndiaAt least 30 people have been killed because of sudden torrential rains and flooding in southern India, officials said Thursday.In Hyderabad city, home ... World News
India sets free top Kashmiri politician Mehbooba Mufti after a yearIndian authorities on Tuesday released a top Kashmiri politician from detention more than a year after New Delhi scrapped Indian-controlled Kashmir’s ... World News
Millions of Indians to get festival loans to boost coronavirus-hit economyMillions of Indian public servants will be offered loans of around US$135 –- to be repaid over 10 months -- in a bid to boost spending and salvage the ... Economy