Indian cinemas close after fatal bombings

21 killed; device defused outside New Delhi theater

NEW DELHI -- Indian cinemas suffered a sharp drop in attendance over the weekend in the aftermath of five bomb blasts that killed 21 people and injured 90 at popular shopping locations in the capital.

In the wake of the blasts that began at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening, the capital went on high alert, closing all cinemas -- targets for bombers in the recent past.

Movie theaters reopened Sunday, including 13 owned by PVR Cinemas, India's second-largest chain, but attendance fell nationwide, resulting in a loss of $1.5 million-$2.2 million (70 million rupees-100 million rupees), according to industry estimates cited Monday by the Economic Times.

"We saw a drop of about 30% in occupancy levels given that average weekend levels are about 80%," Rahul Singh, senior vp operations at New Delhi-based PVR, which runs more than 100 screens nationwide, said in an interview Monday.

News channels disrupted normal programming to feature nonstop coverage of the aftermath of the bombings.

Minutes before the first blast, a group called the Indian Mujahideen sent an e-mail to media outlets claiming responsibility.

As security agencies cordoned off the affected areas, a bomb was defused near the Regal Cinema in the central business and shopping district of Connaught Place. The Regal is one of the city's oldest movie theaters.

Other areas targeted Saturday were South Delhi's upscale Greater Kailash Part One neighborhood and Karol Bagh, a major market in West Delhi.

Under stepped-up security Monday, the city was slowly returning to normal. "Despite the tragedy, people will not be deterred by such incidents, and we are confident that cinema attendance will also pick up in the days to come," Singh said.

In July, the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 45 in the western city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state.

Seven people were killed at a packed Indian cinema north of the capital in October. In May 2005, two cinemas inside the city were bombed, killing one and injuring more than 40.