Sooryavanshi Release: Are We Ready For Cinemas?

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Sooryavanshi release: The theatres are open now! Films are slowly trickling back into theatres, with the release of Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif’s Sooryavanshi. Directed by Rohit Shetty, the action-thriller is Bollywood’s big Diwali release. However, with the threat of COVID-19 still lurking, one wonders if we are ready for the big screen experience or not.

The closure of theatres initially went unmissed, as COVID-19 gradually took over our lives. We had bigger worries. How deadly is the virus? When will we have access to vaccines? How will the pandemic affect the supply of groceries and other essentials? In 2020, Diwali was still marred by our preoccupation with washing hands, wearing double masks and venturing to markets as little as possible.

When the cases began dropping, filmmakers decided to risk theatrical releases early in 2021. Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar came out in mid-March, albeit to a poor response from viewers. This didn’t deter makers of Sooryavanshi and Thalaivii from announcing releases of these big-budget films in March and April respectively. But then the second wave of COVID 19 struck and theatres had to close their doors again. The release of above mentioned two films too was postponed.

Such was the shock and terror unleashed by the COVID-19 second wave that even Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom, which received positive reviews from all corners, couldn’t draw viewers to the multiplexes and single screens. Perhaps it was the weak response to Bell Bottom and the Kangana Ranaut’s Thalaivii, that deterred makers from exploring the possibility of theatrical releases at full throttle.

Now, with rising vaccinations and a somewhat stable number of COVID-19 positive cases being reported every day, filmmakers have upped their hopes again. Apart from Sooryavanshi, Rani Mukherjee’s Bunty Aur Bubli 2, Salman Khan’s Antim, and John Abraham’s Satyamev Jayate 2 are slated to release in November. Aamir Khan has promised fans a Christmas release with Laal Singh Chaddha. It is being said that Sooryavanshi’s bookings have surpassed those for Marvel’s Eternals, which means that the films could be looking at good numbers.

Are filmmakers being too hopeful? Is the audience ready for a theatrical experience?

There is no doubt that watching films in theatres offers an experience beyond entertainment, something that OTT viewing doesn’t give us. As Renuka Shahane pointed out during a chat with SheThePeople, “You can’t make theatres redundant. I think there are certain things that we would like to see only on the big screen. During the pandemic, one has missed that opportunity quite a lot.” Check out our full interview here.

But we have to remember that the pandemic has been tough on people on multiple fronts. Many lost lives and livelihoods, and even those who have managed to survive on both fronts can still feel the economic pinch of the disease, with a shift in priorities and a change in the cost of living. Most of us also feel the emotional burden of COVID second wave even today, which instilled a fear of shared spaces – something which will take a long time to overcome.

Keeping all this in mind, going to theatres comes across as a luxury and a risk that many may not be able to either afford or take. Filmmakers in India and abroad might have to bear the brunt of the pandemic for the coming year or so. While numbers might look promising, there is a possibility that they may not return to their pre-pandemic state for a long time.

When parents aren’t willing to send children to schools when we don’t want to enter a lift that is already occupied by a stranger, due to fear of COVID-19 and while we continue to dread the presence of an unmasked or unvaxxed person amidst us, it seems like we are far from re-conquering the outdoors, including cinemas, wholly. Add to that the fact that many countries around the world are seeing a rise in coronavirus cases, which has sparked valid concerns over third wave of the disease in India as well.

But this doesn’t mean filmmakers can’t try their luck at the box office. Who knows, things might change faster than anticipated. Besides, the audience might want to enjoy the cinema experience while it can, with little to no certainty in sight.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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