MUMBAI, India (AP) — Movie theaters in India’s entertainment capital Mumbai reopened on Friday after more than 18 months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, the last of the many virus restrictions to go amid a decline in infections.
Theaters opened to half capacity, following the guidelines released last month, but struggled to lure the public back and mostly re-released earlier hits. Many shows were running with fewer audiences, movie ticketing portal BookMyShow showed.
To minimize the danger of the virus, only those with COVID-19 vaccination certificates or with a “safe status” on the state-run health app will be allowed to enter the theaters. Masks and temperature checks are mandatory and no food or beverages will be allowed inside.
Theaters elsewhere in the country are already running shows.
Mumbai city has been one of the country’s worst-affected by the pandemic but has gradually reopened following a decline in both COVID-19 cases and deaths. Cinemas there, however, are among the last public places to reopen — a hugely symbolic move in the country’s financial capital also known for its Bollywood film industry.
Every year, the $2.8 billion industry produces more than 2,000 films. Bollywood’s success over the years has embedded moviegoing into India’s contemporary culture and been a boon for the economy.
The restrictions imposed on movie theaters to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have hurt operators. But the industry is expected to rebound. Indian filmmakers have lined up major big-ticket releases ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, when sales peak and audiences flock to theaters.
The return to cinemas in Mumbai comes a day after India celebrated its one billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose. About half of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people have received at least one dose while around 20% are fully immunized, according to Our World in Data.
India witnessed a crushing coronavirus surge earlier this year but life has swung back to normal. Markets buzz with activity, foreign tourists are allowed again and the country is gearing up to celebrate Diwali.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said India’s vaccine drive is an example of what it can achieve if the citizens and the government come together with a common goal. He said the milestone has silenced India’s critics.
“Injecting 1 billion doses is not a mere figure but a reflection of the country’s determination. India has scripted a new chapter in its history. The world will now take India more seriously after this landmark,” Modi said in a speech that was televised live across the country.
Modi also exhorted people to buy Indian-made goods to boost the economy, which is expected to gain from the festival season purchases.
“There are some among us who only trust foreign brands even for everyday necessities. The success of Made in India vaccines is a paradigm shift,” he said.