Shailesh Kapoor: Not Releasing At A Theatre Near You

04 Oct,2019

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Even as the online shows category, or “web-series” as they are popularly called in India, continues to gain momentum with the launch of big ticket launches The Family Man (Amazon Prime Video) and Bard Of Blood (Netflix) in September, there’s another significant online trend emerging in the background: That of releasing mainline Hindi films direct-to-OTT, than releasing them theatrically first.

On November 1, Dharma Productions’ Drive will be available on Netflix. The film was conceived and shot for a theatrical release, and has some face value attached to it too, with the cast being headlined by Sushant Singh Rajput and Jacqueline Fernandez. But the theatrical release has been delayed by more than a year, and the makers have now chosen to skip that route altogether.

Earlier this week, Fox Star Studios decided to release their film Lootcase, a comic caper, online directly, canceling its theatrical release after launching the trailer with a specific theatrical release date. The decision makes a lot of sound business sense. Lootcase has a good trailer, but evidently lacks the face value to get people to buy a ticket for a theatre seat. It would take more money to market the film for a theatrical release, than what its likely box office recovery could be.

Even as smaller films find a life online, the bigger ones continue to set the box-office ablaze. Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff’s War opened to record-breaking numbers on October 2. Earlier this year, we saw Avengers: Endgame record set new benchmarks for Hollywood theatrical business in India.

So, while a certain type of content becomes less lucrative theatrically, and is beginning to rely on the OTT world, the big ticket motion picture continues to thrive. And then, there is the middle-of-the-line cinema too, like Chhichhore and Dream Girl. These films may not be big ticket, but have enough entertainment value to attract a sizeable section of the young audience, ensuring lucrative theatrical returns.

But increasingly, we will see films on the fringes of this middle-of-the-line category tipping over to the direct-to-OTT category. The chasm between big ticket and the rest will only grow wider, as theatrical ticket prices will continue to go up, data costs continue to fall, and the OTT audience base continue to increase with each passing year.

There are many films in 2019 alone, which had known faces attached to them, but were theatrical disasters, not getting an initial audience sizeable enough to build on. The more noteworthy of these are Why Cheat India (Emraan Hashmi), Sonchiriya (Sushant Singh Rajput, Manoj Bajpai and Bhumi Pednekar), Photograph (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), India’s Most Wanted (Arjun Kapoor), Arjun Patiala (Diljit Dosanjh and Kriti Sanon), Khandaani Shafakhana (Sonakshi Sinha), The Zoya Factor (Sonam Kapoor) and Prassthanam (Sanjay Dutt).

The lure of a theatrical release, however, is still an important motivation for many writers, directors and actors. In the Indian film industry, a direct-to-OTT release is still seen as a compromise option, than as a legitimate business decision. This mindset would mean that such films, which should ideally be released online directly, will continue to have a loss-making theatrical release before they go online and hope to recover some costs from there.

But with every passing year, better sense would prevail. Because the writing on the wall is inevitable. If you don’t have  the minimum threshold level of face value and packaging, the theatre is going to be increasingly out of reach.

 

 

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