The re-opening of cinema-halls and multiplexes in the city of Mumbai after an eight-month hiatus, has brought little respite to the workers who continue to suffer due to the low footfalls. As majority of the people continue to steer clear from cinemas, given that these are enclosed spaces, the lack of new Hindi film releases also stands as a major hurdle before the low paying workers. Those involved in these sectors, have been directly hit by the shut-downs and stilted business.
Lives of several workers at a standstill
Two weeks ago, the Maharashtra Government commissioned the re-opening of movie theatres and multiplexes, outside containment zones, in the city at 50% capacity. This re-opening promised the revival of the entertainment industry but the reality is far from that. With low footfalls in the theatres, the repercussion of the coronavirus spread has raised its ugly head. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and altered our lives completely, however, certain lives have suffered a harsher blow of the infection wave than most of us, in spite of the steady steps towards a new normal.
These include the low-wage, accessory workers at the cinema who have experienced pay cuts to lay-offs since the lockdown happened. Many of these workers are migrants in the big city and are the sole breadwinners of their family. From electricians, security personnel to cleaning staff, the lives of several workers came to a standstill since the outbreak of the coronavirus and a certain degree of uncertainty still looms over with no definite medicinal cure for the same.
Workers face heavy payment cuts, as high as 40%
The state established SOPs have further prohibited the sale of eatables at the cinemas, shutting several businesses involved in it. While new releases and audiences continue to shy away from the celluloid, maintenance of lights, CCTV cameras, fire extinguishers is on. The cinema hall workers engaged in these businesses are experiencing heavy payment cuts, as high as 40% since the lockdown. Though the theatres have opened their gates to the audience, the public paranoia due to the pandemic has resulted in diminished commerce, impacting the dues of these cinema mechanics.
Mumbaikars are discouraged to visit cinema halls amid the covid outbreak. While speaking to Knocksense, Anushka Prasad, a Mulund citizen said, “Concerns over rising infection rates aside, I believe basic safety measures including socially distanced reserved seating, frequent cleaning of screening rooms, and temperature checks at the Cineplex door needs to be checked now if they are opening theatres. Unless you’re sitting 6 or 8 feet from the other person, you run the risk of being infected. You know how the air is in a theatre- it isn’t circulated very well. If you don’t wear a mask, you take your chances. We are anyways taking a chance by opening up the theatre here.”
Movie buffs across the city have also prioritised their health over the cinema experience. Samit Sharma, a college student stated, “It is such a shame that we have had no real cinema experience this year, however, that being said, cinema halls are not the safest place to visit this year given the acute infection rise. We can only hope for things to return to normal before we enjoy watching our favourite stars on the silver screen, till then, let us stay away from the packed halls.” Adding to this, Jaanvi Gurnani from Bandra added, “Re-opening of theatres and cinemas is both scary and exciting for me. Nevertheless, you may count as adventure sports, if you have that kind of humour.”
This mass opinion against the theatre opening has also lead to several lay offs since the opening. Multiplex managements have retained only a small percentage of the actual workers, laying off others despite the unlock, given the null audience response.
While the cinema hall and multiplex owners wait for the audience to turn up, workers at these properties are busy figuring out how to earn their bread. The shadows of COVID-19 have intensified and the economic distress pronounces every day as we are unable to repress the growth of this global pandemic.