“Given that cinemas in major markets are unlikely to open in the near term, producers may also rope in players like Tata Sky as a satellite partner for broader coverage. Internal discussions within the industry suggest that they [think] the pandemic situation will improve only in August,” the source said.
After holding on to the film for a year, the makers of Salman Khan’s Radhe opted for a simultaneous launch on multiple platforms — operational theatres, over-the-top (OTT) platform and DTH services. The makers seem to have earned decent returns; sources said the movie, made on a budget of some Rs 140 crore, struck a Rs 250-crore deal with distribution partner Zee Studios. More films may now consider taking a similar route, industry observers have said.
In fact, Sooryavanshi and 83 have already sold digital rights to Netflix, a source aware of the discussions told FE. “Given that cinemas in major markets are unlikely to open in the near term, producers may also rope in players like Tata Sky as a satellite partner for broader coverage. Internal discussions within the industry suggest that they [think] the pandemic situation will improve only in August,” the source said.
Akshay Kumar starrer Bell Bottom and John Abraham led Satyameva Jayate 2 are also chalking out an alternate release strategy. Satyameva Jayate 2, initially due for a May 13 release, has been postponed.
A clutch of Indian states, including major markets like Maharashtra, Delhi-NCR and Punjab that drive over 50% of the business have implemented mini lockdowns and night curfews, shutting theatres and other private establishments to tame the spike in Covid-19 cases. Cinemas were also among the last establishments allowed to recommence operations last after the country-wide lockdown.
For the most part after reopening, exhibitors were mandated to operate at half their seating capacities, dampening business prospects for film makers who continued to explore other release avenues. In a normal year, cinemas screen more than 1,500 movies. Last year, the number stood at 441 compared to 1,833 releases in 2019, a FICCI-EY report showed. Box office collections for Bollywood barely touched `500 crore in 2020 after hitting a record Rs 4,000 crore in 2019.
As it is, the windowing arrangement — a practice in which cinemas historically held the exclusive right to screen movies for a certain period of time before their launch on other platforms — has been upended. The gap between theatrical and OTT releases is narrowing by the day. For instance, Telugu blockbuster Master started streaming on Amazon Prime Video within 15 days of its January release. Parineeti Chopra’s Saina and horror comedy Roohi premiered on digital platforms barely a month after their theatrical releases in March.
Windowing is, in effect, out of the window, reckon analysts. “The days when every film, without exception, would first go to the cinemas may not ever come back,” said Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India. Sooryavanshi is understood to have narrowed the OTT window from eight to four weeks.
“We will do whatever we can to reach our audiences in these times. It doesn’t matter how,” said producer Anand Pandit, who postponed the release of his movie Chehre, earlier slated for April 9. Pandit, however, did not clarify whether he would go for an OTT release or a multi-platform one like Radhe.
Some production houses are however still keen on having a wide theatrical release. YashRaj Films has reserved its entire 2021 slate — including Ranbir Kapoor-starrer action film Shamshera and Prithviraj with Akshay Kumar — for releases in the cinemas.