With the further opening of the country, the cinema is back, but will you feel comfortable watching a movie in a closed hall? Seven months after being forced to close by the government due to COVID-19, the theater reopened under “Unlock 5.0” in parts of India this week. Many states, including Maharashtra (where Bollywood is home to the highest number of coronavirus cases), have temporarily refused. But even if you can choose to experience the fun of the big screen, should you accept it? After all, watching a movie is an activity that involves strangers gathering indoors and people taking off their masks to drink and eat. This sounds like a horror movie of 2020.
In terms of its value, the cinema lists a series of legally binding precautions that must comply with permitted screening locations. The safety protocol is based on five principles: mask, zero contact, physical distance, temperature check and uninterrupted disinfection. Speaking of Tenet, the Christopher Nolan film is the only major film released during the pandemic, but there is still no release date in India, and it will probably not be released until November. Most preventive measures are based on science and our understanding of COVID-19, but there are some problems.
The central government has allowed movie theaters to reopen at 50% of their capacity. Every state seems to agree with this, but does not consider how they will respond to the epidemic. In contrast, California has a four-tier system to determine production capacity. If a county has 4-7 new cases per 100,000 population per day, the opening rate of movie theaters is 25% or 100 people, whichever is less. In contrast, among Indian states that have reopened movie theaters, Delhi is led by 17 new cases per 100,000 people per day.
The cinema sets an upper limit of 50% by using checkerboard seats, which means that each spare seat will be vacant to maintain physical distance. A representative of PVR Cinemas, India’s largest film chain, said that families can sit together and empty seats will remain on either side of them. But what about the seats behind or in front of them? Can COVID-19 only move horizontally now? From the beginning, there was no single gap. Including those luxurious lounge chairs, none of the seats are six feet wide.
When your virus is clearly spreading through aerosols, just six feet is not enough by itself. Research shows that after introducing it into an air-conditioned environment, the virus you now have can spread farther. Of course, the government has also formulated guidelines on exchange temperature (24-30°C, relative humidity 40-70%) based on research. PVR cooperated with a start-up company called Magneto to install an air purifier that emits ultraviolet light to kill virus.
High-tech solutions can make watching movies safer. Himanshu Agarwal, the founder of Magneto, told me that it is better than traditional air purification because it does not become a secondary source of infection because it can also kill viruses. But he admitted that no system is foolproof. This is where the problem lies.
In addition, the theater can freely sell food and beverage discounts when it reopens in India. After all, they are their biggest source of income. This seems to be the opposite of the always block rule. In fact, allowing moviegoers to eat or drink is the biggest motivation for people to take off their masks. Temperature screening can only identify those who are already showing symptoms. Studies on this vary widely, but 20% to 80% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic.
Medical Association [JPG] Consider “going to the cinema” in the highest risk places such as gyms, buffets, and theme parks. Dr. Prabhakaran Dorairaj, an epidemiologist working at the Public Health Foundation of India, pointed out that people are not wearing masks “in accordance with specifications.” I look at you, your bare nose, the mask on your chin. It’s dark, who will watch people? Dorairaj added: “Personally, I have to wait until the pandemic in March/April next year at least before it can be expected to subside or the vaccine will be widely used.”
In any case, this does not mean that there is nothing worth seeing now. Cinemas are reopening by re-release of films that last from eight months to a year and a half. The only new movie to watch is the action comedy “My Spy” led by Dave Bautista, whose reviews are encouraging. There is nothing on the calendar. Producers are not sure what it feels like to walk out of the cinema and then into the cinema, which is why Bollywood movies continue to flow into streaming media. Just last week, Amazon Prime Video announced its second list, which included characters like Sara Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan.
This can easily become a vicious circle, in which there is a lack of new buzz movies and interactions between audiences. It has already happened elsewhere. A few months ago, American theaters (except theaters in New York and Los Angeles) opened, and Nolan’s Tenet was touted as a movie savior. But the fact is just the opposite. Since its release in early September, Tenet’s revenue in the United States has not even been less than $50 million. In terms of its value, it has done better internationally.
In response, small Hollywood studios have postponed the release of blockbusters. As a result, some film chains in the US and the UK have closed. This can easily happen in India. During the pandemic, movie theaters have passed particularly difficult times, but considering the money spent on all COVID-19 security agreements, the situation will be even worse if movie theaters have to close again. Large screens are not only essential to the industry, but also essential to the public. The cinema is back, but if its return is not handled well, its future may not be recognized.