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Cinemas: a cautious reopening


Earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that cinemas could reopen from July 4. Cineworld and Vue, both global chains with hundreds of screens worldwide, announced plans of reopening UK cinemas from July 10, with adequate safety precautions in place. I am using the UK as a microcosm for scenarios that could play out worldwide, in case you were wondering. There was immediate controversy as Cineworld CEO Mooky Greidinger said that while his staff will be required to wear masks, the audience wouldn’t. This understandably irked Cineworld staff, who would be risking their lives by inadvertently inhaling the coronavirus from an unmasked customer, and they promptly began a petition to fight this.

In the US, where some people feel that wearing masks is an affront to their personal liberty, the AMC chain initially said that it was not mandatory for audience members to wear masks, then did a U-turn and said that it was. Regal, owned by Cineworld, did a similar flip-flop. Wherever it is, including India, it will boil down to the specific cinema on the day, and the audience and staff. I’m sure the hapless cinema workers in India aren’t looking forward to a belligerent unmasked audience member bellowing the equivalent of “Do you know who I am?”

But enough of masks (no, not really, do wear them). What will we get to see when cinema screens reopen, and we muster up enough courage to enter them? There are three keenly anticipated big Hollywood films due in the July/August box-office frame – Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, the live-action version of Disney’s Mulan and the return of Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984. Before that, distributors will test the waters with a wealth of repertory titles including a 4K release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back; the best of Nolan including Dunkirk, Inception, Batman, and Batman Begins; various franchises including The Fast and the Furious, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Twilight and Mad Max; re-releases — of recent titles like 1917, Little Women and Parasite.

We must also take a moment to bless the cinemas that are planning to bring back classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia. Last week, speaking at annual global cinema conference CineEurope, held virtually this year for obvious reasons, Steven O’Dell, president of Sony Pictures, said, “What you can feel is that you can have the biggest television that can be in the house, and people are pulling out their hair to get outside.” Unless you are filthy rich and have a state-of-the-art home cinema, there is just no way to replicate the theatrical experience.

There’s also the question of whether I am ready to go back to theatres. The disease no amount of social distancing can cure in cinemas around the world is the annoying people who continually play with their phones — the glare of which destroys the moments that have taken filmmakers years to create. If Thor’s hammer can be deployed instantly on such idiots, I’ll be first in line when cinemas reopen.

Naman Ramachandran is a journalist and author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, and tweets @namanrs.



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