From Monday, all cinema halls will be permitted to operate at full capacity with fresh guidelines from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), including staggered show timings for multiple screens, physical distancing and setting air conditioning at 24-30 degree Celsius.
These guidelines come days after the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed operation of cinema halls with full capacity while mandating the I&B Ministry to issue a Standard Operating Procedure. Till now, only 50 per cent capacity was allowed.
However, films cannot be shown in containment zones.
"There is good news. In February, people can watch and enjoy films in theatres as we are allowing full occupancy in all cinema halls. We encourage as much online booking (of tickets) as possible," Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
The SOP has taken extra care to ensure that there is no crowding in cinema halls or its premises. The show commencement time, intermission period and finish time of a show at any screen shall not overlap with the times of another screen in the multiplex.
Digital "no-contact" transactions should be the "most preferred mode" for booking and verification of tickets as well as payment for food and beverages. People are encouraged to use online bookings, e-wallets and QR code scanners among others.
The purchase of tickets at the box office has to be open throughout the day and advance booking will be allowed to avoid crowding at the sale counters. A sufficient number of counters at the box office should be opened to prevent crowding during physical booking with floor managers ensuring distancing.
The SOP also wants cinema halls to ensure row-wise staggered entry and exit of the audience and there should be sufficient time interval between successive screenings.
Proper crowd management should be done in parking lots and outside the premises while the number of people in the elevators should be restricted. Efforts also should be made to avoid overcrowding in the common areas, lobbies and washrooms during intermission.
"Audiences may be encouraged to avoid movement during the intermission. Longer intermissions may be used to allow the audience seated in different rows of the auditorium to move in a staggered manner," the SOP said.
On air-conditioning and ventilation, the SOP said ACs must be set to 24-30 degree Celsius while relative humidity should be between 40 and 70 per cent. Re-circulation of air should be avoided and cross ventilation should be ensured. There should be frequent sanitisation of the entire premises, especially points that come into human contact, like handles and railings. The cinema halls should be sanitised after every screening.
Similarly, regular cleaning and disinfection of the box office, food and beverage areas, employee and staff lockers, toilets, public areas, and back-office areas should be ensured. Sanitisation staff should be given gloves, boots, masks and PPE.
"Disinfection of the premises to be taken up if any person is found positive," the SOP added.
Welcoming the SOPs, the Producers Guild of India and Multiplex Association of India (MAI) tweeted, "We welcome the decision of Ministry to allow 100% capacity in cinemas from February 1 and extend our sincere gratitude to Prakash Javdekar-ji and everyone involved in facilitating this important step in our industry's recovery." It also thanked BJP MP and actor Sunny Deol for his support in taking up the issue with the Ministry.