India’s cinemas can reopen at 100-per-cent capacity from today in a boost for the country’s ailing entertainment industry.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, announced over the weekend that theatres can fill all seats from February 1 as long as they adhere to a list of standard operating procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Within cinemas, physical distancing of at least six feet is required outside the auditoriums, common areas and waiting areas at all times, and the use of face covers/masks are mandatory.

Cinemas began reopening last October with 50-per-cent occupancy.

“This is welcome news finally which would give a much needed boost to the multiplex industry. We thank the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Ministry of Home Affairs for their decision on allowing 100% seating capacity at the cinemas,” Gautam Dutta, CEO of the PVR chain, told Variety.

Meanwhile, BookMyShow has called for a boost to India’s ailing entertainment industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic in response today’s 2021 Budget.

The ticketing, cinema and entertainment giant welcomed Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s investment in India’s digital economy, which included a ₹1,500 crore fund to boost digital payments that is hoped will support startups and internet businesses.

Ashish Hemrajani, BookMyShow’s founder and chief executive, also gave his backing to a focus on infrastructure, healthcare and capital expenditure which, he believes, can “stimulate growth and accelerate recovery”. The government’s efforts to iron out compliance issues by decreasing the time-limit for re-opening of income tax proceedings to three years from the present six years was also welcomed.

However, Hemrajani said more needs to be done for entertainment, with billions of dollars lost in India alone due to the closure of cinemas, concerts and sporting events over the last year.

“The entertainment ecosystem, the world over, remains the key stone for travel, tourism and hospitality industries which are growth engines for any economy and have been the worst-hit through the pandemic,” Hemrajani said.

“Budget 2021 did not address the long-pending relief measures for the media and entertainment industry by way of easing infrastructure roadblocks and rationalizing the extremely high GST rates on live entertainment with that levied on cinema.

“While Budget 2021 marks a positive step in the direction of sustained growth, we hope the government will provide some fillip to the entertainment industry that is a significant contributor to the aspiration of a $5trn economy, enabling employment opportunities, adding significant heft to the country’s growth.”

In 2019, India’s cinema box office reached $1.5bn making it a record year, according to Mumbai-based media consulting firm Ormax Media’s Indian Box Office Report 2019.