The pandemic has cast a huge shadow on India's flourishing movie business with shutdowns impacting box office revenues and the outlook looking grim for the industry.
India's film industry, which is the world's largest in terms of the number of films produced and second largest after Hollywood in terms of its global reach is increasingly on edge since the first Covid-19 lockdown in March last year.
Major film productions have been shelved or indefinitely postponed, thousands of cinema halls shut down, supply chains and post production disrupted, not to mention major job losses.
Trade analysts are unsure when normalcy will return given that they have seen a flourishing industry sell 1 billion tickets every year before the pandemic.
Every year 1600-1800 films get produced collectively in various languages in India. Of this, about 200-250 Hindi films alone are made in a year and the Hindi film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, yearly box office earnings stands at a little over 30 billion Indian rupees (341 million euros).
For Hindi films, more than 70% of the box office including big budget movies comes from multiplexes, and contribution of smaller single screens is not considerable to make a larger dent in the earnings.
Several major films which are completed are on hold and ambitious projects have been put on the backburner.
Screen goes dark
Even the southern Indian film industry, referred to as 'Tollywood' is staring at its worst crisis with losses pegged at 9 billion rupees (102.5 million euros) for the Kerala film industry as a slew of films including possible blockbusters still lie unreleased.
"There are many daily wage workers in the industry who're badly affected right now, and they're the ones who actually need the livelihood more than anyone else," said actor Tamannaah Bhatia in a recent interview.
It is not only producers who are stuck in a tight spot. Other stakeholders like multiplexes, film exhibitors and cinema owners are having a tough time too.
According to an Ernst and Young 2020 report, India had around 9,527 screens out of which there were around 6,327 single-screens and 3,200 multiplexes. Last year around 1,000 screens had shut shop permanently.
"I just think every business will face a little bit of financial hit including the movie business. The kind of content people will churn out will also get affected," said actor Taapsee Pannu.
With new lockdowns, more theatre owners are looking at permanent closures. This means that India's overall screen count could come down to around 7,000, say industry insiders.
"Thousands of screens countrywide are forced to close down. Even their supply chains and other stakeholders facing personal hardship, it is a tough state of affairs," Gautam Dutta, CEO PVR Cinemas told RFI.
Online platforms the 'new big screen'
Insiders estimate that the Indian cinema exhibition industry had lost theatrical revenues of close to 120 billion rupees (1.36 billion euros) in 2020-21. There has also been additional impact on revenues in terms of lost concession sales, and screen advertising sales.
Instead of traditional cinema, Over the Top (OTT) platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have become the 'new big screen'.
Industry trends indicate that with access to better networks, digital connectivity and smartphones, OTT platforms in India have been attracting subscribers on a daily basis.
India's streaming market is expected to grow 31% from 2019 to 2024, with revenues reaching US$2.7 billion (2.29 billion euros), according to consultancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, while cinema revenues will contract 2.6% in the same period.
With over 45 OTT services in India, there is a battle for consumers. Low cost and efficient mobile recharge packages along with good internet connectivity have permitted both rural and urban populations to consume video content at an alarming rate.
Time will only tell how this development will affect the country's cinema and television industry in the long term.