Tamil Nadu becomes the first state in the country to allow 100% occupancy in movie theatres since the COVID19 outbreak. In an order dated January 4, the government allowed the theatres to increase their seating capacity from the existing 50% to 100% following standard operating procedures. While the film industry has welcomed this decision, several others have criticized the decision.
No COVID19 outbreaks have been traced back to movie theatres, not just in India, but across the world as well. But this does not negate the risks associated with going to indoor movie theatres. The governments are depending on the theatre operators to strictly adhere to the standard operating procedures issued by them. However, sitting close to each other for an extended period of time poses significant risks.
In Tamil Nadu, the COVID19 cases have been falling steadily. The daily COVID19 infection rate is now less than 900. This is cited as one of the reasons for opening the theatres to full capacity. However, the capital city Chennai has seen some new COVID19 clusters emerge over the past couple of days. More than 100 employees of various luxury hotels in the city have been infected with COVID19, including 85 employees from ITC Grand Chola alone.
Tamil Nadu had already allowed 50% occupancy in movie theatres from November 10, 2020 onwards. The latest announcement comes in the wake of a meeting between Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswamy and actor Vijay. During the meeting, Vijay purportedly asked the CM to consider increasing the capacity in movie theatres, as his ‘Master’ movie is gearing up for release during Pongal.
Support for the decision:
In its order, the Tamil Nadu government noted, “Based on the decrease in the COVID19 cases day by day, the Theatre Owners Association have represented to Government to increase the seating capacity of Cinemas/Theatres/Multiplexes. Now, therefore the Government hereby permit to increase the seating capacity of Cinemas/Theatres/Multiplexes from existing 50% to 100% by following the Standard Operating Procedure issued already.”
People associated with the film industry have welcomed this decision. Even those in other states have welcomed this decision, hoping to see their respective governments permit 100% occupancy in theatres soon.
Producer G Dhananjayan, speaking to The Indian Express, said, “We welcome the order wholeheartedly as that’s the need of the hour. If 100% occupancy is not there, big films will not release. If big theatrical films do not release, the audience will not come. It’s a chicken and egg situation. To revive the industry, there’s no option other than big films releasing with full occupancy.”
Actor and BJP politician Khushbu Sundar welcomed the decision saying that the film industry will ‘flourish leaps and bounds’. She further wrote, “Those who have different opinions on 100% capacity functioning of cinema theaters, only one message for you. Pls don’t go if you are worried. Your fear is understandable and nobody forces you to come. Take care.”
In an interview with Times Now, Tamil Nadu Minister D Jayakumar said, “This is not an arbitrary move, we have taken this decision after consultation with an expert medical panel.”
Although many people associated with the film industry have supported the decision, a few people in the minority have spoken against it.
Actor Arvind Swami was one of those who was not in favour of granting 100% occupancy in theatres. He tweeted, “There are times when 50% is way better than a 100%. This is one of them.”
Actor Kasturi Shankar also vehemently opposed the decision. She wrote, “Yes, Pongal is the biggest release date for movies. But this should not be about movie lobby’s pressure or political and financial gains during election season. NO western country with proven vaccines is taking such risks! TN People are not guinea pigs.”
Congress MP Karti Chidambaram said that the decision to allow 100% occupancy in theatres is ‘baffling’. In an interview to India Today, he said, “When the whole world is grappling with the pandemic, and masks and social distancing are still the norm, for the government to allow theatres [100% occupancy] goes against all medical advice. Theatre seats are in close proximity of each other. Multitude of people from various areas congregate in a movie theatre. And movie theatres, particularly during Pongal week, could easily become a super spreader.”
R K Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor of Frontline magazine, cheekily wrote, “Now that Vijay’s request has been conceded to by the Chief Minister, let’s ask @actorvijay to sit with fans and watch the movie in a 100% full cinema! Will you, Vijay?”
An article in Los Angeles Times tries to answer if going to the movie theatres is safe, by getting opinions from health experts. While most experts were satisfied with the safety precautions taken by theatres up to the point of entry, they agreed that the risks increased significantly after entering the auditorium due to the choices the patrons would make. Read the insightful article here.