The report of the direct digital release of seven films, including two major Bollywood movies, has split the industry with some multiplex chains stating they are alarmed and producers upset at the “unconstructive messaging” from the exhibitors.
The entertainment industry faces crippling revenue losses following the coronavirus-forced lockdown, which was triggered by Amazon Prime Video acquiring Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana-Starrer Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi, with Vidya Balan in the title role of the mathematics whiz, for direct-to-digital premieres.
Five films from the South are also placed up for digital releases.
Besides, there are reports that the Laxmmi Bomb, of Akshay Kumar, may release on a digital platform along with Janhvi Kapoor’s Gunjan Saxena, another Bachchan-Starrer Jhund and Ludo, starring Abhishek Bachchan and Rajkummar Rao.
PVR, the most prominent theatre chain in the country, told it is sad with the decision of some producers to opt for digital releases.
“Theatrical release is the most reliable way for audiences to experience the labor and creative capacity of our filmmakers This has been so for decades and not just in India but globally,” Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures, told PTI.
He stated the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has made an unfortunate shutdown of cinemas but expressed confidence that people will be back to cinemas once the situation returns to normal. He said exhibitors had urged producers to “hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopened.”
After Shoojit Sircar stated that his Gulabo Sitabo was headed to Amazon, theatre chain INOX expressed “extreme displeasure” and “disappointment,” saying the production house’s choice to deviate from first releasing the film in theatres was “alarming and disconcerting.” It also called for “retributive measures.”
“In these troubled times, it is difficult to see one of the partners not interested in continuing the mutually beneficial relationship, especially when the need of the hour is to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, and bring the film industry back to its vibrant best,” the chain said in a statement on Thursday, labeling the producers “fair-weather” friends.
The Producers Guild of India grew up with a reasonably scathing response, saying it is “disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging” “Releasing movies in theatres Is not an option shortly as for the business to do well, cinema screens everywhere, including in the across markets should be operational,” it stated on Friday. And once cinemas are back, the backlog of movies would be a concern.
“In addition to this, there will be a large backlog of releases, and the smaller and medium scale films especially will experience from sub-optimal showcasing in addition to all the concerns above.”
The Guild said given these factors; it is only natural that producers will seek out all avenues available to recover their investment.
“In this time of uncertainty, some producers have decided to release their content directly on OTT. It is within their rights to decide. We will not release those movies in theatres,” said Carnival Cinemas CEO Mohan Umrotkar.
“There is money invested, there may be interest (on it), someone wants to reduce the loss, and if they are in a position to monetize it, we can’t hold them. The situation is such that you cannot blame anyone,” Umrotkar told PTI.
Some single screen owners, who have faced an opponent from multiplexes, also said they understand the dilemma of producers.
“We would like to have all films released in theatres, but one can’t stop anyone. Everyone is facing financial crises today.
“We recently had a word with Akshay Kumar to not release his films on OTT. He has told us that ‘Sooryavanshi’ will release in theatres, but Laxmmi Bomb might follow the digital route. We are yet to get in touch with other top actors including Salman,” Manoj Desai, executive director of G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir, told PTI.