Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar’s decision to release Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo on an OTT platform has attracted criticism from theater owners, including big players PVR and INOX, who believe the makers should have waited for cinema halls to reopen.
Produced by Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar, Gulabo Sitabo was initially supposed to arrive in theaters in April, but with the coronavirus pandemic forcing cinema halls to pull shutters down, an unprecedented uncertainty engulfed the film industry. The makers are now releasing the film on Amazon Prime Video in June.
Lashing out at Rising Sun Films in an apparent reference, INOX calls the move by the film’s team “alarming and disconcerting.”
“INOX would like to express extreme displeasure and disappointment at an announcement made by a production house today, to release their movie directly on an OTT platform by skipping the theatrical window run. The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting.
“Cinemas and content creators have always been into mutually beneficial partnerships, where one’s action provided a fillip to another’s revenues. This partnership has endured for decades, and has provided succour to each other. In these troubled times, it is disturbing 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,” reads a statement by INOX.
The multiplex chain further says it will take “retributive measures in dealing with such fair-weather friends.”
“Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners. Needless to say, INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends.
“INOX would like to reiterate that as the backbone of the cinematic value chain, this windowing pattern has done wonders in terms of revenue for the content creators and all other stakeholders, as it offers them the opportunity to extract the best from all available mediums, which include cinemas, OTT platforms as well as satellite,” the statement further reads.
PVR Pictures CEO Kamal Gianchandani told indianexpress.com that the film chain is disappointed that the makers did not heed to the multiplex chain’s request to hold back the film’s release.
He said, “We are disappointed with Gulabo Sitabo’s decision to go straight to a streaming platform. We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopened.”
Leading exhibitor Akshaye Rathi remarked that with a cast as stellar as Gulabo Sitabo’s, it would have worked wonders on the big screen. “It’s Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana coming together. It would have crossed the Rs 100 crore mark. Look how Ayushmann’s films have performed over the last couple of years.
“Of course a film is a producer’s baby so they have the right to release whatever way they want to, but this is a precedent, whose impact is going to be negative in the exhibition sector,” he said.
According to Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan, the film’s team should have waited for normalcy to return and let the audience have a community experience. “When you look at it from a business point of view, it’s a mistake. When you release a film in theaters, and it does well, and then you bring it to OTT, the film’s value increases in comparison to releasing it on the web directly,” he said.
Another point that Chauhan, who runs Roopbani Cinema in Purnea, Bihar, raises is about the quantification of success for films opening on OTT platforms.
“The only way to gauge the success of a Gulabo Sitabo is by the number of viewers. Is there any other yardstick to measure it by? Even “Genda Phool” (Badshah’s latest single) gets 100 million views on YouTube. So, how do you quantify success when a film goes directly on OTT? This cannot be a long-term engagement.”
But with no timeline as to when the government would consider opening cinemas even if the lockdown relaxes in the near future, producers with finished films will be forced to take the OTT plunge.
Akshaye Rathi said, “I am sure soon there will be many more announcements of such nature. And with that, exhibitors will have to come together to recalibrate… maybe reworking the window between a film’s release in theaters and on the web. In Hollywood, a film does not come on the web until a year after its theatrical release. But here you see it on OTT platforms within a month.”
“And I hope that as exhibitors stand by producers in their decisions, tomorrow the producers will reciprocate the support. We all have to move forward together and not by pulling down each other. There were rumours that exhibitors had decided to boycott those producers, who would directly release their films on OTT. That’s rubbish. We can’t survive without each other,” Rathi added.
But both PVR CEO Kamal Gianchandani, who reserves a word of praise for filmmakers who have chosen to wait to release their films in theaters, and exhibitor Vishek Chauhan don’t see this development as any game-changer.
“We are confident that once we get to the other side of this phase, there would be enough and more pent up demand by cinegoers, who have been cooped up at homes for the last many weeks. We are likely to see demand by force when we reopen,” Gianchandani said.
Chauhan added, “Big screen is where magic happens, where stars are made. They aren’t born on the web or small screen. You are telling me the number of views of Laxmmi Bomb will be compared to Special Ops and what if it gets less viewership? Will you discount Akshay Kumar’s stardom? When 500 people queue up outside a theater nine in the morning to watch a Shah Rukh Khan film, it’s then a star is born.”