The State government seems to have made up its mind to offer the people of Tamil Nadu, a bonanza of sorts in every sense of the word, in the run-up to this year’s festive season. Starting with the disbursement of Pongal goodies in terms of provisions and cash of Rs 2,500 per ration cardholder, to the go-ahead given to conducting jallikattu, the state has now permitted theatres to operate with 100 per cent occupancy from January 13. This makes it the first state in India to do so.
The move has come on the back of actor Vijay approaching Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami last month, and making a special request granting theatres the right to function with complete occupancy as opposed to the 50 pc occupancy that had set into motion the reopening of theatres in the State on November 10 last year. The Ilayathalapathy’s request seems to be timely as his upcoming release Master is slated to be one of the big-star openings during Pongal season. Other actors such as Silambarasan, whose new film Eeswaran is set for a Pongal release, had also batted for this complete reopening, along with theatre owners associations in Tamil Nadu, who had made a special representation for the same.
While the go-ahead might offer the promise of some respite to the thoroughly exhausted film industry, it is certainly worth pondering whether the decision was taken keeping the welfare of the public in mind. Both, members of the Opposition, as well as healthcare experts have slammed the move calling it a danger to people’s lives. Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar had on Monday defended the government’s move and added that the call to restrict crowds at Marina during New Year’s celebrations was taken as the beach could attract as many as two lakh people. “However, theatres can house only a limited number of people,” the minister added. Quite an irony, considering the beach is still an open location.
Having dealt with the onslaught of the pandemic for the better part of a year now, several sectors had just begun limping back to normalcy, even as precautions were still the order of the day. To top it off, there is a new mutant strain of COVID-19 that was found in passengers who had returned from the UK, and the number of those affected by it, pan-India, has touched 58 on Tuesday. It’s amid these developments that in Chennai, super-spreader events have been tumbling out one after the other in places that witnessed pre-pandemic level human congregations.
It started with the IIT-Madras cluster where 200 individuals had been declared COVID-19 positive after students were found overcrowding the mess halls as well as sharing toilets. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was an inevitability waiting to happen, considering how short-changed educational institutions are usually when it comes to real estate spaces. But then, just this week, two well-known five-star properties in Chennai turned out to be super-spreaders with over 125 people testing positive. This is also the first instance nationally, of the luxury hospitality sector being affected by COVID infections.
Experts have pointed out that closed spaces with air-conditioning and zero social distancing are sitting ducks as far as the spread of the contagion is concerned. Add to this, the risk of festival crowds turning up at a cinema, and the subsequent queueing up of people at both ticket counters, refreshment stands, as well as restrooms, and it’s a sure-shot recipe for disaster.
While the government has already made its move, the ball is now in the public’s court. Cinema-buffs who have waited this long to tide over the corona crisis, will not mind waiting a little longer before heading back to the box office. If only the government and the film industry could be as patient.