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Seven months after screens go dark, cinemas reopen across much of India with older titles on the big top

NEW DELHI – Seven months after dark on screens, cinemas reopened on Thursday across much of India with mostly old titles on the marquee, a sign of the country’s efforts to return to normal then that the rate of infections is slowing but also of the roadblocks that remain.

The return to theaters comes as India records the world’s highest number of daily cases and is expected to soon top the global list in terms of total infections, overtaking the United States. But trends also suggest that the spread is starting to slow.

Nearly 10,000 theaters closed in mid-March when the government imposed restrictions to fight the virus. They are among the latest public venues to reopen an extremely symbolic movement in a country known the world over for the lavish productions pumped up by its Bollywood film industry.

Each year, the $ 2.8 billion juggernaut produces more than 2,000 films that feature intricate dance routines, chants and spectacular castings, serving to unite a diverse nation. The success of the industry over the years has incorporated cinema into contemporary Indian culture and has been a boon to the economy which, since the start of the pandemic, has seen its slowest growth on record.

But even if theaters reopen, the cinema has still not bounced back. Reeling from zero box office returns in this pandemic year, Indian filmmakers have so far failed to line up any new big-ticket releases and have pushed the films they’ve made straight to streaming platforms in line like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Such struggles can be seen around the world as the pandemic has devastated the entertainment industry. Earlier this month, a major US cinema chain announced that it would temporarily close hundreds of locations in the US and UK.

Movie theaters pose some of the greatest risks of infection as they place people in an enclosed space, where the virus can spread easily, for an extended period of time.

To minimize the danger, Indian cinemas have separate seats, staggered show times, and encourage digital payments. Masks and temperature controls are mandatory.

We got everything in place, maybe more than what was prescribed, said Gagan Kapur, regional manager of PVR Theaters in New Delhi.

Still, some Indian states have been cautious.

Authorities in Mumbai, the homeland of Bollywood, have delayed the reopening of cinemas for the time being. The southern state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, is the hardest hit in India, with nearly 37% of the 110,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the country.

With few new films coming out of Bollywood, theaters on Thursday mostly re-released previous hits, although a new film, Khaali Peeli, a typical Bollywood boilermaker, has been released.

Older films like Tanhaji, a historic epic about a Hindu warrior who rises against the Mughals, Thappad, a social drama about domestic violence, and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, a romantic comedy starring a gay couple, have been played. on multiple screens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a shameless hagiography of Indian Prime Minister that was released last year, has also been released in some places.

The reopening of movie theaters comes as trends suggest a drop in new infections.

India saw a surge in July and added over $ 2 million in August and another $ 3 million in September. But it sees a slower pace of the coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections hit a record high of 97,894. It is averaging just over 70,000 cases a day so far this month.

But some experts say India’s tally may not be reliable due to poor reporting and inadequate health infrastructure. India also relies heavily on antigen testing, which is faster but less accurate than traditional RT-PCR tests.

Health officials have also warned of the possibility of the virus spreading during the religious festival season starting at the end of the month.

The next two and a half months are going to be very crucial for us in our fight against corona due to the winter season and the festival season, “Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Wednesday.” It becomes the responsibility of every citizen not to let our guard down and follow appropriate COVID-19 behavior to curb the spread of infection.

Associated Press video reporter Shonal Ganguly contributed to this report.

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