Theatrical OTT show

Theatrical OTT show

Going for the movies is a thing of the past, writes Manu Shrivastava

Metro Inox Cinema in Mumbai during lockdown. PHOTO BY AUTHOR

Grabbing a movie at a nearby multiplex with that jumbo box of caramel popcorn in one hand and a coke in another is now relegated to something you watched … in the movies!

Gone are the days when you could throw caution to the winds, grab your partner’s hand and jostle through enthused crowds surging for an entry into a cinema hall. With Covid-19 breathing down heavily upon the world and no cure anywhere in sight, humans have been reduced to a masked existence, in the obscurity of their homes and distanced by law.

The biggest film productions in India are being awaited but with a difference as watching a film is probably the last on one’s list of priorities. If not, then watching one in a fancy multiplex sure is. So, Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani’s Laxmmi Bomb, Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana’s Gulabo Sitabo, Kiara Advani’s Indoo Ki Jawaani, Amitabh Bachchan’s Jhund, Abhishek Bachchan and Rajkummar Rao starrer Ludo, Vidya Balan’s Shakuntala Devi, Janhvi Kapoor’s Gunjan Saxena biopic, Kriti Sanon’s Mimi, Ananya Panday and Ishaan Khatter’s Khaali Peeli and Radhika Madan, Diana Penty and Sunny Kaushal’s Shiddat are through with shooting and ready for release.

Window of opportunity

They are all undergoing their respective post-production modules before hitting the over-the-top (OTT) platforms — the only inevitable option left for the industry. With the entire nation, locked up at home, releasing these films digitally seems the best and most well-calculated plan. The most reasonable industry practice of retaining the initial two months of a movie release as an exclusive theatrical window before selling the rights to satellite channels or over the top platforms like Netflix or Amazon is a thing of the past. After all, it’s a matter of survival.

Film director Shoojit Sircar with actors Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana recently announced their upcoming film, Gulabo Sitabo, will directly release on Amazon Prime Video on June 12, instead of going to the big screen first. Gulabo Sitabo was slated for a theatrical release earlier this year before the Covid-19 pandemic led to a complete lockdown of the nation. “This is the dawn of a new era for Indian entertainment,” said director Sircar. “I am happy that a global audience will be able to watch our gritty dramedy, and enjoy what the film has in store for them. Gulabo Sitabo is a quirky, light-hearted movie the audience can enjoy with their families. It has been a wonderful experience working with Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana on the film,” added Sircar. With the digital release, Gulabo Sitabo will première across 200 countries and territories.

Capitalising on the move, Amazon Prime Video, India’s Director and Head, Content Vijay Subramaniam says, “It is the first step in our endeavour to bring superior cinematic experiences to our customer’s doorstep.” A Rising Sun Films production, Gulabo Sitabo is produced by Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar. The news surely does not augur well for the single screens and multiplexes across India reeling under the Covid-19 threat.

A few members of the Eastern India Motion Pictures of India even dashed off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take steps to stop producers from releasing films, primarily meant for theatres, on OTT platforms. The letter maintained that producers, who have signed contracts with single screens and multiplexes, should not be allowed to release their films on OTT sites. It would only add to the financial woes of cinema hall owners. Since mid-March, for over two months now, single screens and multiplexes have stopped screening any movies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the Bengali film industry, a number of producers have lined up their ventures for release on OTT platforms.

Point of irrelevance

Producers, stung by the global pandemic and the lockdown constraints in India, have been selling off rights to the films to the online streaming platform. “It’s the uncertainty about the reopening of theatres that has led to producers deciding to go ahead with an online release instead,” says Pune-based, Marathi film industry artiste Mangesh Hiremath.

“How else will they recover their money? With the situation today looking dismal and no solution in sight for a year at least, filmmakers are left with little option but to look for other platforms to recover as much as they can,” says financial consultant Rakesh Goel who maintains, “It’s a pure survival tactic. And, one that cannot be dragged or put to question in a court of law either.”

Intriguingly, life is all set to change. Staying in quarantine within a mandatory lockdown has nipped in the bud all activities that we were used to.

Losses suffered by film industry

 Multiplexes have been threatening to boycott producers and actors opting for digital releases until theatres open but this could be legally challenged as being anti-competitive. Producers, on their part, would be able to legally stream their films even if their contracts didn't contain a force majeure clause.
 Exhibitors earn anywhere between 50 percent to 60 percent from the ticket sales and are bound to be irate.
 Experts estimate the entertainment industry has already lost more than a thousand crores because of the
lockdown. Box office revenues have completely dried up and projects are being delayed, spelling huge losses for
the industry.

Theatrical  scores

This year, after War and Kabir Singh, it was Ajay Devgn starrer Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior that drew in triple digits
- ₹367.65 crore (US$52 million) worldwide according to some reports, better even than Uri - The Surgical Strike that made
₹338 crore. And then, came Baaghi 3 released on March 6  that was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing nationwide
lockdown from 25 March 2020 and fell short of a century. Three lockdowns later, Baaghi 3, produced by Nadiadwala
Grandson Entertainment and Fox Star Studios, was re-released on Disney + Hotstar on 1 May 2020.

Angrezi Medium, Irrfan Khan's last, made at a budget of ₹30 crores, went on to be released on 13 March and was
drastically affected by the closure of cinema halls and multiplexes across India following the Covid-19 scare. It
went on to be re-released digitally, in less than a month of its theatrical release, on Disney + Hotstar on 6 April.

Indian films set for OTT release

Amazon Prime will also release seven films in five Indian languages directly on the digital platform and scheduled to
premiere between May and August.
* Ponmagal Vandhal (Tamil), starring Jyothika, Parthiban,
Bhagyaraj, Prathap Pothen and Pandiarajan, Ponmagal
Vandhal is a legal drama, will be screened from 29 May.
* Gulabo Sitabo (Hindi), starring Amitabh Bachchan and
Ayushmann Khurrana, earlier set to have a theatrical release
on 17 April 2020 will be released digitally now from 12th
June.
* Penguin (Tamil and Telugu), starring Keerthy Suresh, will be
released from 19th June.
* Starring Ragini Chandran, Siri Prahlad and veteran actor
Mukhyamantri Chandru, Law (Kannada), is being released
from 26th June.
* Featuring actors Danish Sait, Sal Yusuf and Pitobash as
leads, French Biryani (Kannada) will be released digitally from
24th July.

* The much-anticipated Shakuntala Devi (Hindi), featuring
Vidya Balan in the lead and featuring Sanya Malhotra, earlier
set for a theatrical release on 8 May, will now be released on
the Prime Video platform. The film's release date is yet to be
announced.
* The last of the lot, Sufiyum Sujatayum (Malayalam) starring
Aditi Rao Hydari and Jayasuruya is expected to have a digital
release during this period too. The film's release date is yet to
be announced.

ZEE5

* Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Ghoomketu is slated for a 22 May
release on Zee5. The shooting of the film was completed in
2014 but owing to financial troubles and the inability to find
ideal distributors for the film release, the release was delayed.
The film was initially speculated to have its theatrical release
on 16 November 2018 but was postponed.