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Indian films see a purely digital release: will it last?

Under the leadership of Bollywood, the billion dollar Indian entertainment industry has been moving steadily towards digital platforms since India’s standstill in March. While some major ticket releases are planned in the coming months, it remains to be seen whether Showbiz can completely ignore the cinemas given the high ticket prices.

While Shoojit Sircar’s “Gulabo Sitabo” with Amitabh Bachchan and youth icon Ayushman Khurrana is scheduled for June 12 on Amazon Prime, recent rumors suggest that several other films could soon follow on Netflix and Disney + HotStar.

The last film to hit theaters before the block was Angrzi Medium by Irrfan Khan. The film premiered on Disney + HotStar in the first week of April and has had a long run at the top of the charts. No doubt the main actor’s death Irrfan Khan contributed an element of nostalgia.

Industry sources say the lockout losses could range from Rs.3000 to Rs.3500 crores (approximately INR 30-35 billion). With more than 40 OTT platforms to choose from, filmmakers are undoubtedly moving their loyalty to digital, given the explosive growth they saw after the Covid-19 lockout.

The real challenge

The exorbitant costs for the production and distribution of films and the excessive dependence on satellite rights as a source of income could become a decisive factor in the future. The large production houses may prefer to suspend the Covid 19 impact, while the smaller ones may focus on the OTT platforms and hope for a repeat of the cinema.

Top directors like Kabir Khan and Rohit Shetty went on recording that they had no intention of going the OTT path with their upcoming publications 83 and Sooryavanshi. Industry experts believe these are films that could help lure audiences back into cinemas after the block ends.

While the big producers prefer to wait and watch, there are others who want their films to see the light of day without uncertainty. According to reports, several Bollywood films could look in the OTT direction in the near future.

OTT as a savior

While the IT industry has done a good job from home, showbiz now hopes that they too can get a large proportion of these employees to watch their films on OTT platforms. After all, the same IT industry contributes to a large part of the Indian multiplex audience.

The film industry, which directly and indirectly accounts for nearly 3 percent of India’s GDP and employs more than a million people, cannot accept uncertainty, says an experienced Chennai filmmaker who has retired and is working on a screenplay about the history of the revolutionary Scholar Bangalore Nagaratnamma.

Given these high stakes, there is no reason why producers should wait for the cinemas to reopen as every day increases their costs. He points out that a number of films from Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam could premiere on digital platforms as the release could be disastrous for financiers.

Why would anyone want to wait for a limited release within a state or across the country for Bollywood films if they can reach a global audience? Gulabo Sitabo, which is expected to appear on the OTT platforms in June, can be seen by Indians in 200 countries. And most of these countries are also blocked.

So what about the theaters?

Does this mean that Direct to Digital would be the way to go? Definitely not if the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) is an indicator. The forum, which represents the country’s cinema operators, wants the industry to “preserve the sanctity of the exclusive cinema window, which can range from a few weeks to two months.

In addition, some rumors about the release of Gulabo Sitabo on the OTT platform have already started. Inox Movies has released a statement that questions the publication that such actions affect the atmosphere of collaboration between filmmakers and exhibitors.

A senior executive working with a large production facility in Mumbai believes that more than filmmakers, producers, and financiers feel the crisis there, and in some cases, the latter are forcing the team to take the OTT path out of sheer desperation to go.

In the future, there would be a clear distinction between filmmakers looking for OTT as a means of getting their films published more broadly, while the big ticket production houses would stick to the theatrical release, because for them cinema is about showbiz and gala premieres, to generate enthusiasm.

What about the audience? It all depends on whether you believe in the collective social experience, watch films on the big screen, or stick to a single OTT plan and give the family free choice of what they want to see.

However, it can be said that cinema theaters (multiplexes) in India are notorious for harassing Audince at high rates for everything that many would prefer to see on OTT platforms, even as home TV screens and high definition streaming keep getting better. In addition, most Indian films seem to be tailored for the streaming experience, as only a handful are really suitable for viewing on large screens.

Things look balanced in one way or another.

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