The ongoing lockdown due to the pandemic COVID-19 has impacted many industries around the world and one of the industries that have got affected is the television and films industry and many producers and directors are resorting to OTT platform while many have held back their films and are waiting for the theatres to open soon. OTT platform releases are mainly due to monetary and logistical reasons but the debate over Theatre vs OTT seems to not end very soon. Also Read - After Gulabo Sitabo, Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi Biopic Goes to Amazon Prime Video
Over the last two days, two films have been announced for the straight-to-digital release – Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo and Vidya Balan’s Shakuntala Devi. However, exhibitors have strongly voiced their displeasure over the decision as it adds to their revenue loss due to the closure of theatre. Also Read - Shoojit Sircar's Gulabo Sitabo Becomes First Bollywood Film to Release Digitally, Amazon Prime Video to Stream it in Over 200 Countries
Speaking to Times of India, Siddharth Jain of INOX Group expressed his displeasure and said, “Today, as a cinema chain, I am forced to ask my producer friends, that when the cinemas ultimately open, what are they expecting me to show the audience there? Will anyone pay to watch an old film? What did hurt us as a part of this fraternity was the fact that the producers did not even speak to us about this before making a decision. The Multiplex Association of India had requested for this, but decisions were made unilaterally. It’s a 100-year-old relationship between production and exhibition. The last time when it experienced a jolt in 2008, it came out of it with flying colours. I am still hopeful for the same this time, too.”
Soon after the announcement of Gulabo Sitabo, director of the film Shoojit Sircar said that he weighed against all the disadvantages and felt it was a good decision. He added, “The decision to release Gulabo Sitabo on an OTT platform involved extensive discussion with my team. This would be the first for me as well as my team to experiment with a digital release. But we all are aware of the current scenario and when we weighed against all the advantages, we felt this was a good decision. It was due for a theatrical release in April and given the unforeseen circumstances, I took my time and decided to experiment and release Gulabo Sitabo online… I definitely believe both OTT and theatrical releases can co-exist, it all depends on the situation and the time of need. I can’t predict whether this would become a trend. It ultimately depends on the kind of story and film you are making.”
Independent Distributor and trade analyst, Amod Mehra, feels that going straight to OTT is a bad idea. He believes that producers will lose almost all the other avenues, including TV satellite rights, which earns a big chunk. He was quoted as saying, “By choosing streaming over a theatrical release, they will lose almost all the other avenues, including TV satellite rights, which earn them a big chunk. When a producer signs Akshay Kumar for a film, he knows that if he spends `100 crore making the film, he will earn way more than that. By selling to OTT, that will considerably reduce.” A source from a leading production house says, “Once we are able to overcome these difficult times and cinemas reopen, we are extremely optimistic that audiences will want to come back. The theatre viewing experience is here to stay.”
Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor and distributor, opened about his opinion on the matter and told Pinkvilla, “It’s simple – it’s an ecosystem that has been in existence since the last 100 years. It’s been a mutually beneficial resource for everyone. In an hour of crisis like this, everyone is in trouble. It’s not just the producers but exhibitors are also incurring losses. We aren’t asking anyone to not monetise in case there’s a financial crunch, but the least we are expecting is to have a discussion and speaking to all the stakeholders before taking a call like that. Nobody wants to step out of anyone’s shoulders to climb out of the well but we all want to emerge stronger out of it together.”
“Before bypassing us completely, ek baar baat toh kar lo. Maybe, we can find a solution which will help both of us. Maybe, there is a way where we can help you cover the cost of that interest that will be mounted till the cinemas open up. Right now, it’s time to address such problems and find innovative solutions together. ” Akshaye also reveals that time post-COVID-19 will be an altogether new phase. “There will be a realignment of systems and procedures that we have been following. But we can just stand with each other like rocks and think about each other. It’s not too much to ask”, he added.
Speaking about the request made by multiplex association, he said, “The multiplex association had put out a humble request to please stick to us and not bypass us. There was no response to that by anyone – by the Guild or any producer in particular and the next thing, we read is that Gulabo Sitabo is premiering on digital.”
Some of the other films that might go for straight digital release are Laxxmi Bomb, Jhund, Ludo, Mimi, Gunjan Saxena and Khaali Peeli.