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What it is like to watch a movie at a theatre now that cinemas have opened after seven months

Alternate seating, with no one directly in front of or behind another person, pre-packed food and longer intervals for more stringent sanitisation are some steps being taken.

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When the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in India and a lockdown seemed imminent, movie theatres were among the first places to be closed down, and are among the last to reopen.

In September, Multiplex Association of India (MAI) ran the #UnlockCinemaSaveJobs campaign on Twitter, along with full page ads in major dailies, appealing to the government to save jobs. The MAI argued that more than 2 lakh jobs were at stake and that the movie exhibition sector had suffered an estimated rupees 9,000 crore in losses.

India has been gradually easing restrictions since June, but it was only in early October that cinema halls were given the go-ahead to reopen from 15 October, with a number of Covid-safety protocols to be followed.

PVR Cinemas, India’s biggest exhibitor, said 10 states and four union territories have given their go-ahead for movie halls to open their doors again.

There are no new releases being screened at theatres right now, but recent hits such as Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Thappad, War and Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior are some of the movies with which cinema halls are kicking off their reopening.

So what’s it like to watch a movie at a theatre now?

Longer interval and popcorn with a lid

At PVR Plaza in New Delhi’s Connaught Place, the first show of Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar’s gay comedy Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan saw excited audiences. S.K. Dewan, a senior citizen, is not too scared of contracting the infection. “We’ve to put some faith in the government. They have reopened public spaces only after ensuring everything is safe. This is also a way of doing my bit and getting the economy going,” he told ThePrint.

All transactions are mandatorily cashless. If you book your ticket on the spot, a special QR code can be scanned at the box office, through which you can pay for your ticket. While paperless tickets were an option earlier, now they are all paperless, so as to ensure minimum physical contact.

Movie-goers received a warm welcome at the theatre. All the staff members gathered around to give them a round of applause.

There was a standard temperature check at the entrance, and no frisking by security. Those who displayed any symptoms of illness will be refunded in full, the management has clarified.

Theatres have been allowed to have up to 50 per cent of their capacity filled. At PVR Plaza, audiences could sit on alternate seats, and no one was allowed to sit directly in front of or behind another person. No exceptions were made, not even  for couples or families. Also, cinemas now have to maintain proper ventilation and air-conditioner temperature at above 23 degrees Celsius.

Sanitiser dispensers were placed at various points across the cinema hall. It is mandatory to wear a face mask at all times and to maintain physical distance from other people — staff members made regular rounds to ensure everyone followed these rules.

At the concession stand, everything was served pre-packed, and the menu has fewer offerings than before lockdown. Popcorn was served with a lid on the container, to minimise spilling. Additionally, there were marked spots at a distance from each other on the floor in front of both the concession stand and the box office.

The interval time was been extended by 15 minutes to make room for a more intensive sanitisation process. And while there were no marked spots for those in queue for the restrooms, only alternate stalls were allowed to be used at once.

A PVR representative told ThePrint that the opening show was satisfactory and that the audience was cooperative, “some 25 people came to watch the first show, so it was a decent turnout. We’re expecting to attract bigger crowds once there are new releases.”

In the capital, no PVR movie ticket will not cost you more than Rs 99, at least for the time being — there is no information on how long this pricing strategy will continue, or whether it will change once new movies are released. However, you’ll incur an additional Rs 20 convenience fee if you book in advance via a third party app.

Also read: Hollywood studios can now buy theatre chains, but why bother when Covid has everything shut


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