The concept of drive-in and open air cinema is not a novel one in India, but it certainly is not seen as a popular cinema viewing experience. With the world, and the country trying its best to cope with restarting businesses amid the pandemic, the perspective may soon change. Giants like PVR are also eyeing to expand business in the format now.

Five months have passed since the nationwide lockdown first shut down movie theaters, amid most other business. While almost all other businesses have reopened as India entered the fourth phase of “unlocking the lockdown”, cinema halls and multiplexes are yet to be back in action. However, as per the latest guidelines from India’s central government, open air theaters and cinemas can begin functioning starting September 21.

Sharing his plan to grab the opportunity, CEO of PVR Mr Gautam Datta says, “Even before  Covid-19 had become a harsh reality, PVR had already signed up to build a drive-in theater in the financial capital of India – Mumbai. Yes, we are excited and right now in midst of building a drive-in theater in Mumbai. It is a rising trend in western countries but there are a lot of challenges in India.” PVR’s upcoming drive-in cinema will be at Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai.

Currently, India has functioning drive-in cinemas in just three cities across the country – Gujarat’s Ahmedabad, Tamil Nadu’s Chennai and Haryana’s Gurugram. Sunset Cinema Club and Gurgaon Talkies are two clubs running drive-in cinemas in the national capital region of India.

Founder of Sunset Cinema Club Mr Sahil Kapoor says, “India’s weather is not very adaptive to a concept like open air. We have been in this business for three years now but we can only function from August till April. Rest of the year is either too hot or too rainy for people to enjoy something like a drive-in.”

Challenges ahead for drive-in cinema in India

The biggest challenge in India, for a concept like drive-in or open air cinema is the weather and lack of space in bigger cities. Given the extreme weather conditions, it is not too welcome a scenario in an open air theater. Moreover, drive-in cinemas require much larger space.

CEO of INOX Leisure Ltd Mr Alok Tandon says that the normal movie lover in India is used to the enclosed environment of air conditioned comfort (in a country where weather is mostly uncomfortable). “They have also got used to the pampering meted out to them at the multiplexes. The drive-in experience may be high on the novelty factor, but may not be comparable to the comfortable experiences of the indoor cinemas,” he adds.

 Adding that space is a major restraining factor, Mr Tandon says, “Managing to secure a large expanse of space at a comfortable distance from the center of the city can also prove to be an uphill task. Being able to operate only two shows in a day will challenge the commercial viability of drive-in theaters.”

With the limitations of space, weather restrictions and a lack of fresh titles on offer, drive-in and open air cinemas have an uphill task in India from September 21. Will the new world order bring arevival of these platforms in India?

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