See You at the Movies… in 2022

03 Sep,2021

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorEven as the pandemic lurks around, with its perpetual looming presence, we are more than two-thirds into 2021 now. It will soon be time to talk about 2022, a year that many will be hoping is the better than the last two. The story was not every different when 2020 was ending. 2021 was meant to bring in a change of fortunes. Hopefully, the change will be for real this time.

 

The one category in the Indian media and entertainment industry that will be looking forward to this change of fortunes the most is the business of theatrical exhibition of movies. It’s been a virtual washout for the industry over the last 18 months. While studios and production houses have kept the ship running because of streaming platforms, the exhibition sector has been waiting, for what now seems like eternity. There was a brief period towards the end of last year when the ball was beginning to roll again, but the second wave changed that.

 

There are several questions on the industry’s mind while they wait patiently for movie theatres to return to their fully glory again: Have the audience lost the habit of going to the movie theatres? How many theatres will shut down permanently because of the pandemic? How tough will the recovery be? Will there ever be a recovery at all?

 

The year 2022 will give us most of these answers. Sporadic releases (like Bell Bottom two weeks ago) may give a sense of things on ground, but they are not enough to answer questions of the nature above. The next four months will see select films coming out with headwinds in the form of government restrictions and a skeptical audience. At some stage, towards the end of 2021, one can expect the sporadicity to give way to continuity. Conditions (read ‘no third wave’) apply, of course.

 

So, what can we expect from 2022 from the box-office, assuming that theatres are open across India by then, to full capacity? A lot. We can expect one of the best-ever years, if not the best, in terms of gross collections at the box office. 2019 had set the record at `10,948 Cr, and while crossing that may be a tough ask, I don’t expect 2022 to be far behind. The audience is starving for the outdoor experience movie-going provides, and no amount of movie consumption on television or streaming can be a worthy substitute.

 

The recovery is almost certain to be driven by films from the South, where a host of big films are lined up for a national release, with their Hindi dubbed versions set to give original Hindi films a run for their money. In 2019, the last full theatrical year that was pandemic-free, South dubs contributed only 5% of the Hindi theatrical business. This proportion may go up to as high as 20% in 2022.

 

Many single screens may have permanently shut (and we will know the numbers only when continuity is restored), but that won’t impact the business in material terms, given that these are likely to be the low-collecting theatres. My bigger concern is a sense that the content ecosystem may have become too streaming-obsessed of late, and some of the top creators may no longer have sound judgment on how the two media (theatrical and streaming) must be handled differently, and yet work on some common principles of what Indian entertainment stands for. This could impact content innovation, and the nature of content coming out in the theatres in 2022, and even 2023.

 

We will know how things pan out only in a few months. But one thing is certain: Movie theatres are not dead. They are ready to make a spectacular comeback, of a degree that will surprise many analysts.

 

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