Bollywood stars return to India’s big screens after more than a year

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People gather outside a cinema hall to buy tickets for Bollywood films in Mumbai February 12, 2010. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe/FILE PHOTO

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Bollywood stars are returning to India’s big screens after more than a year, with the film industry hoping that declining COVID-19 cases and the festival season will bring audiences back to the cinemas.

“Sooryavanshi” (Descendants of the Sun), a police drama with four of India’s top actors, is the first A-list Bollywood film to premier in theaters since March 2020, when a strict lockdown forced all venues to close.

Hardly any Bollywood movies have been released in theaters since then, with many producers preferring to release their films on streaming platforms like Amazon’s Prime Video, Netflix and Disney.

“It was tough to hold out for a theatrical release, but we still believe that audiences will come back to the theaters,” Shibasish Sarkar, who was group CEO of producer Reliance Entertainment during the making of the film, told Reuters.

“There are some films you can’t watch at home.”

“Sooryavanshi”, an action-drama in the Bollywood tradition, with flashy dance sequences and muscle-bound leading men thwarting villains, is released on Friday, a day after the Hindu festival of Diwali, traditionally a big box office day.

Initially due out in March 2020, its release date was pushed back three times as India grappled with waves of coronavirus cases and authorities locked down in several parts of the country, shutting theaters.

India’s richest state, Maharashtra, which accounts for more than 30% of box-office revenue, opened cinemas with restrictions only two weeks ago, as cases fell and vaccinations picked up.

Rajendra Singh Jyala, head of programming for INOX, the country’s second largest multiplex chain, told Reuters he expected demand to bounce back to pre-COVID levels.

But the firm has consistently reported a net loss since March 2020 and Jyala said another wave of coronavirus infections and any new lockdowns could seriously hurt the already beleaguered industry.

“Producers have made money by selling their movies to Amazon and Netflix but it is the theater owners that have really suffered,” said Shailesh Kapoor, of Ormax Media, which tracks films before and after release.

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