Shailesh Kapoor: Woes of the ‘Second Wave’

26 Mar,2021

Shailesh KapoorBy Shailesh Kapoor

There’s been an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases across India in March, with the state of Maharashtra and the city of Mumbai being the epicenters. With lockdowns not an affordable option anymore, life seems as ‘normal’ as it was end of 2020, with some restrictions like night curfews in some cities.

A media sector that is being hit the most by this ‘second wave’ is the theatrical films business. After a long wait of a year, the film industry was finally getting into release mode. But with Maharashtra’s escalating numbers and the accompanying restrictions (capacity capped at 50%, night shows not allowed in many cities), Hindi films may have to wait a little longer.

It is now safe to say that the Hindi film industry missed a good release window between December 2020 and February 2021. This was a period of low restrictions, and the Covid count in the key box-office states, including Maharashtra, was largely in control, being a fraction of what it is today. But films like Sooryavanshi waited for the situation to get even more ‘normal’, and that’s backfired a bit, going by how things stand today.

The South film industry is largely unaffected at this point of time. Most states have their Covid numbers in control, and big films have released and done great business, in 80-90% range of what their pre-Covid box-office would have been.

It’s an evolving situation, and one hopes that we are at the peak of the so-called second wave, and that April will bring in some relief for films scheduled for end-April (Sooryavanshi) and Eid (Radhe and Satyameva Jayate 2) release. But it’s a wait-and-watch scenario for now.

This extended period of theatrical lull should have bolstered the streaming platforms further, but that’s not happening either. The content pipeline seems to have dried up, and while new shows have been launching at the usual rate of four-six a week, the big-ticket ones are missing in action. Pre-lockdown tentpole shows are all out, and those that started filming post-lockdown are still in production. One may have to wait for the summer, post IPL, to see the next slate of big shows go online.

The direct-to-OTT strategy adopted by films was a much-talked-about topic in 2020, especially with the big announcement by Disney+ Hotstar, around its ‘Multiplex’ sub-brand. But that strategy has not sustained too well, and the pipeline of upcoming theatrical-worthy Hindi films on streaming has dried up too.

General entertainment television has done well for itself over the last few months, but the focus for the next two months will be on IPL and the state elections, which means that sports and news will be dominant media content categories in April and May 2021. Let those games begin, then!

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