Khaali Peeli to release in drive-in theatres across the country; could this be a viable alternative during the pandemic?

Is the drive-in theatrical format a necessity because of the pandemic or just a passing fad?

Karishma Upadhyay September 29, 2020 14:25:11 IST
Khaali Peeli to release in drive-in theatres across the country; could this be a viable alternative during the pandemic?

On 11 October, after almost six months of the pandemic-related shutdown, audiences will be able to watch a Bollywood Friday release on the big screen. Apart from an OTT release, the Ananya Pandey-Ishaan Khatter film Khaali Peeli will also premiere at two drive-in theatres. The film will have 10 shows over three days in Gurugram and Bengaluru. There will also be two shows of the Vijay Sethupathi-starrer Ka Pae Ranasingam at the Bengaluru venue. The film makes Bollywood history not just because the industry hasn’t seen a big screen release since Homi Adajania’s Irrfan Khan-starrer Angrezi Medium in the middle of March, but also because drive-in theatres traditionally play only older films.

Until the beginning of June, there was a feeling among theatre owners and the film trade that cinemas would reopen soon. There was talk about cross-allocation of seats to maintain social distancing in auditoriums, contact-less F&B, sanitisation tunnels and regular body temperature checks of the staff. Multiplexes were confident about welcoming patrons by July. That’s clearly not happened and with COVID cases continuing to sky-rocket around the country, it’s highly unlikely that moviegoers are going to flock to closed auditoriums and sit next to strangers any time soon. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t want entertainment outside of their home.

Khaali Peeli to release in drivein theatres across the country could this be a viable alternative during the pandemic

Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday in Khaali Peeli | Image from Twitter

Even as indoor-theatre operators have seen their business flat-line this year, movie watchers have flocked to the safety of outdoor screenings. Watching a film while in the safety of one’s own car with Bluetooth technology, wireless headphones or speaker towers ensuring there’s perfect sound has bridged the much-needed gap. In the US, Walmart installed big screens at 160 of its parking lots across the country for 320 shows of films from the Tribeca Film Festival. In Spain, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, a drive-in theatre in Madrid kick-started its summer of movies with a screening of the classic Grease. In South Korea, even though regular theatres are open once again, patrons are flocking to their nearest drive-in. And, Autokino Essen in Germany continues to host ‘sell out’ screenings.

The brainchild of Richard M Hollingshead Jr who loved cars and movies, drive-in cinemas are true Americana and have been celebrated in popular culture. The concept never really took off in India though. We currently have only two dedicated drive-in theatres – Prarthana (Chennai) and Sunset (Ahmedabad), but both are not operational right now.

Since Unlock 4.0 came into effect on 21 September, the government has allowed open-air theatres to operate with 100 people. And, that’s when event management companies who had run open-air screenings even before the pandemic, stepped in. Films are being showcased on the big screen in large sports grounds or empty parking lots for anything between 20-70 cars in one show. The Sunset Cinema Club has had screenings of films like La La Land, Midnight in Paris and Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani in Gurugram and Bengaluru. Stepping Out, also in Bengaluru, has been organising movie nights with screenings of films like English Vinglish and ET. Another Bengaluru outfit 39 Drive-In tied up with Yash Raj Films for shows of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Chak De! India.

The forthcoming screening of Khaali Peeli falls in the same category. The films will be aired in Backyard Sports Club (Gurugram) and Phoenix Market City (Bengaluru). “Families want to be able to get out and be entertained while remaining safe. They will be able to enjoy a film on a large LED screen with sound towers on a nice green grass venue. At the entrance, we will have body temperature checks, patrons will be given masks and shields and cars will go through a fumigation tunnel. F&B services will also be sanitised and socially distant,” says Swaroop Banerjee, COO and business head, Zee Live.

Traditional multiplex players, though, have been slow to get off the block. Most of them see drive-ins as a passing fad that is not economically viable in the long run for multiple reasons. The biggest challenge is finding a substantially large parcel of land close to the heart of a city. Also, unlike indoor theatres, drive-ins can’t have more than two shows a day.

There are reports of Carnival Cinemas having identified three locations in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kochi. Among the bigger chains, only PVR had already planned for a drive-in theatre even before the pandemic struck. PVR’s drive-in will be in the heart of Mumbai financial district in BKC and will be called Jio World Drive. For now, though, there are no immediate plans of expanding the format. “As compared to most Western countries, India really sees a demarcated four seasons in a year. With each season, comes a problem of its own. In summers, we really have high temperatures soaring, during monsoon, it really pours and in winters, the fog coupled with poor air quality encapsulates the air making it tough to venture out in the open, let alone spend 3-4 hours watching a movie,” explains Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Cinemas.

At a time when all of us have been starved for out of home entertainment, just the idea of going outside with friends or family, watching a new release on a big screen and not having to worry about getting infected is enough to get me to the nearest drive-in. Traditional chains are going to take some time to build stand-alone drive-ins so maybe Bollywood should embrace the non-traditional players.

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