Mumbai: A packed cricket schedule that peaked with an Indian win in the World Cup final has hit the country's other grand passion -- film -- emptying cinemas and forcing studios to postpone big movie releases.
Analysts said business at multiplex cinemas had been weak so far in 2011, with the six-week World Cup that finished earlier this month keeping people glued to their television screens in the evenings.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament which began immediately afterwards is also expected to keep many cinema-goers away until the end of May.
The short-format Twenty20 competition has all the glitz of Bollywood, with many film stars owning team franchises and big name players from around the world, cheered on by a bevy of scantily clad dancing girls.
The financial newspaper Mint said during the week that multiplex chains may have lost up to 500 million rupees ($11.1 million) in the three months to the end of March. Earnings data is expected in coming weeks.
"It was a weak quarter, with average occupancy rates at theatres declining to between 10 to 12 percent," said Chitrangda Kapur, media analyst with Mumbai-based Angel Broking.
"Due to the World Cup and IPL, fewer films were released from February up to May" said Rajesh Jain, head of media and entertainment at global consultants KPMG.
In the absence of the usual number of weekend movie releases, some multiplex chains even resorted to screening cricket matches to attract audiences.
Alok Tandon, chief executive of Inox Leisure Ltd, said they had no option.
"As we know, February-March is traditionally a period when kids are busy with their exams and families prefer not to go out to watch movies," he said.
"Apart from the movies, cricket is the other religion of our country and hence during this period, very few big banner movies were released.... We screened the semi-final and final, which ran to nearly house-full shows."
The back-to-back cricket tournaments could not have come at a worse time, with the Indian film industry struggling to recover from a prolonged slump.
Overall revenues have fallen 20 percent in the past three years from $2.3 billion in 2008 to $1.85 billion in 2010, according to KPMG research.
Domestic box office revenues still contribute 75 percent of an Indian film's earnings.
Poor quality content, rising overheads, the global economic crisis and an increase in other ways for people to spend their spare time have also been blamed for the downturn.
"The industry just needs one strong story to change the trend," said Devang Sampat, chief India strategist with Cinepolis, the world's fourth-largest multiplex operator globally.
Sampat cited the example of Aamir Khan's "3 Idiots" which broke box office records in 2009, but few releases in 2011 have enjoyed even a fraction of that success.
Hopes are again being pinned on Khan, and his ageing superstar namesakes Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, to boost box-office sales.
Salman's comedy "Ready" hits theatres in June, while Shah Rukh Khan stars in a sci-fi superhero movie "Ra.One" (Random Access - Version 1.0) and Aamir in "Delhi Belly" later this year.
KPMG's Jain predicted a better second half of the year for the industry.
"We have a good line-up of releases in the forthcoming quarters, including a good list of 3D and regional movies," said Inox's Tandon. "We are quite positive that these movies will do well."