The Union Home Ministry’s Unlock 4 guidelines do not allow cinema halls to resume operations in September too. As the battle for Bollywood gets fierce with OTT and theatres locking horns in the post-COVID world, hashtags like #SupporMovieTheatres and #SaveIndianCinema have been trending on social media. In an exclusive interview with ETimes, filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar opened up about the possibility of films releasing on the big screen, apprehensions of people coming back to theatres, and more. Excerpts…

Shootings have resumed but theatres are far from being opened for public. Where do you stand on this OTT vs theatres debate?
We have been watching films in theatres for ages now. The magic of cinema is completely different in the dark theatre when you are sitting with your family, friends and even strangers you have no acquaintance to. That is altogether a different kind of experience. It is sort of a ritual for the movie buffs. If the theatres open, people will surely come to the theatres. I have people I know who keep telling me how bored they are to sit and watch movies at home on their television, computers, and phones. They want to come out and watch them in theatres again. I don’t know how much capacity the government will allow us to come out in the theatres. We will know once the SOPs come for the theatres. In India, as they say, cricket and cinema are like religions. And theatre is a huge and popular platform for films.

Christopher Nolan’s film, ‘Tenet’ has done a huge business abroad. It is a good sign that people are coming to theatres. Even Tom Cruise went to the theatres to watch the movie. These are surely encouraging for the common man. I am sure the Government of India and the theatre owners will take all the measures and precautions to see that people have a safe experience when they come back to watch the film on the big screen. I have spoken to some of the theatre owners. According to them, they are so prepared that if the Government permits them, they are ready to open the theatres within one day.
On the other hand, it will definitely take time for people to come out in theatres to watch the film. There is a certain amount of apprehension and uncertainty about it. Some people still do not want to step out. It will take time to gain confidence if the cine-goers but once it is open, gradually people will start coming. The number of people going to the theatres might be low but the spirit will definitely be high.

But it looks like not many are keen on waiting for the theatres to open. Many movies opted for a digital release over the theatrical release in the past four months.
It all depends on the budget of the film, capacity and holding power of the producer. Some have been holding their film from the past six-seven months because they have big stars in the movie and have a good budget. They want the audience to experience their film in the theatres only. However, some have already released their film on the OTT platform. They do not want to wait for long because we don’t know when everything will be normal. They don’t want the movie to get stale.

Shekhar Kapur, in one of his tweets, said that OTT release of films hint at the end of stardom and Rs 100 crore clubs in Bollywood. Do you agree?
I don’t think so. I feel that this is a temporary phase. This pandemic has caught humans out of the blue. Nobody knew something like this would happen six months earlier. Once the vaccine comes and there is a mass production of it, things will go back to normal. It will take a year or two but the magic of big cinema and the people going to the theatres will definitely ignite once again. And this is true not only for cinema halls but for malls and other such public places too.

How much are you missing watching films in theatres?
I am missing watching movies in theatres a lot. However, very honestly, I am lucky enough that I have a home theatre in my house. But yes, the experience of watching a movie in theatres is completely different and cannot be substituted.

I enjoy watching movies on the big screen. You sit with your family, friends and strangers, share a laugh or two, whistle – all these are altogether a different experience that is possible to feel only in theatres.

Do you watch your movies in theatres?
I don’t watch my entire movie in the theatres. I go to the theatres, sit for some time and watch the reactions of the audience. I keep going in and out. There are butterflies in my stomach when my film releases. The only movie made by me that I have watched full in the theatres is ‘Page 3’.

However, as a movie buff, I watch other movies in the theatres. I enjoy theatre experience. I have grown up watching films in the Gaiety Galaxy. Even today, I love watching massy films in that theatre. I remember watching ‘Aan’ over there. I saw people going gaga over Shatrughan Sinha’s entry and whistling on Irrfan Khan’s entry – it was a wonderful experience. Films transport you to another world and you enjoy it sitting in a dark hall.

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