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Lockdown woes continue for cinema halls as threshold narrows awaiting respite

New Delhi: The cinema exhibiting sector has been struggling to make ends meet. It has been six month since shutters were pulled down on theatres across the country. The crisis has subtly put many lives in jeopardy as more than 2 lakh frontline workers have already lost their jobs and over 5 lakh people have their livelihood at stake.

Fifty-year-old Praveen Kumar (name changed) is the sole breadwinner of his family. He has been an operational level worker at a single screen theatre for the past 28 years. With savings gone to nil, Praveen is now surviving on government allotted ration and is already under a debt of Rs 10,000. He says: "There is no one to blame. But with cinema halls shut, I have nowhere to go. At this age I cannot change my profession."

With pay cut and lay-offs, the situation of the operational level workers at multiplexes is even worse. According to sources, many corporate multiplexes laid off their operational staff during the first month of lockdown. While some of these workers received e-mails from their respective companies, many were left hanging with no clarity on the status of their employment.

Sudhanshu Bhushan who worked at INOX said that he received his salary for March and since then he has not got any confirmation on his employment. "I got my last salary in March, since then I have not been able to get hold of any of my managers. They keep stalling us. Unlike many of my colleagues who received emails and were let go in March, I don't even know whether I have a job or not. There is no clarity and no salary; therefore I am not able to even apply for another job."

Ramesh (name changed) who worked at the operational level at PVR Gurgaon said: "We have not lost our jobs yet but there has been a massive pay cut in our salaries since July."

The frontline workers of the cinema exhibition industry are not the only ones worried about their livelihood. The burden of the crisis has only become heavier for the cinema exhibitors who have been desperately waiting for their revival.

With zero revenue for the past six months, it has become a chicken and egg situation for many single screen owners. While some theatre owners are considering a permanent shutdown on their business, many in order to sustain have been compelled to implement pay cuts and slash their manpower to half.

Akshaye Rathi, single screen theatre owner based in Mumbai said: "As an employer I have been struggling with revenue loss and expenses such as maintenance, taxes and salaries. I can't let go of my employees but I was compelled to implement pay cuts to ensure stability."

Meanwhile, Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure Ltd said: "The impact of COVID-19 is unquestionably the biggest that the cinema exhibition industry would have seen globally in its century old history. The developments transpired into a situation where we see our revenues coming to a standstill with no footfalls at all. The cinema exhibition industry has made losses at an average of Rs 1500 crore a month."

With hopes for a turnaround, the industry has not only been vocal about its plight online, but has also raised its concern with the government that is likely to hold a meeting with cinema theatre owners on September 8.

Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, Joint Managing Director, PVR Ltd, said: "We have already written to the government bodies, association and are ready to reopen our theatres to the public. We are ready to take every precaution and follow the protocols mentioned by the government."

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