The Tamil Nadu Government has informed the Madras High Court that they would work out a solution and come up with a detailed reply by Monday 11th January, pertaining to the permissible seating capacity at the movie theatres ahead of the Pongal festival. The Bench was hearing a writ petition filed by advocate Kannan of Madurai, on behalf of S. Muthu Kumar.
The Madurai bench of the Court had taken up this matter after a Writ Petition was filed against the Tamil Nadu Government’s recent Order that permitted 100% occupancy of seats in cinema halls. The Petitioner had opposed this Order, pointing out the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the fear of the UK Strain of the virus.
The recent order by the Tamil Nadu government had come under fire from various quarters, as it was a public health risk, amid the pandemic. Some big names from the film industry including Arvind Swami had said that continuing with 50% was the apt move. Days after the TN Govt order was issued, the Union Home Secretary had written to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary, instructing that Central Government’s Unlock Guidelines be followed.
As per the Central Government’s (MHA) latest guidelines, cinema halls must operate with a maximum of 50% seating capacity.
The Bench of Justices MM Sundaresh and S Anandi had mentioned that status quo of 50% occupancy must continue in theaters until the State Government announces its decision on Monday. They also acknowledged the suggestion mentioned in the Writ petition, which said that theaters could run more shows, while following Covid-19 protocols, if they found it feasible.
After the pandemic had struck and the lockdown was imposed in March last year, with most films taking the OTT route, theatre owners were a worried lot. While cinema halls were permitted to screen for a 50% audience from November, it meant less patronage, given that there were hardly any new, big-budget films making it to the screens.
The government’s decision to allow 100% occupancy comes following the appeals by theatre owners associations to grant permission for higher occupancy. The major beneficiary of this announcement would be actor Vijay’s film Master, and Simbu’s Easwaran which are slated for a Pongal festive release on January 13th. Master was to hit screens sometime in Summer 2020, but had to be postponed owing to the pandemic and there were even rumors of the film taking the OTT Route.
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