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Vidya Balan starrer 'Shakuntala Devi: Human Computer' will premier on Amazon Prime Video worldwide.
Vidya Balan starrer 'Shakuntala Devi: Human Computer' will premier on Amazon Prime Video worldwide.

Amazon Prime Video announces direct-to-digital release of seven films

  • Ponmagal Vandhal will be the first one to premier on 29 May, followed by Gulabo Sitabo on 12 June
  • The move is crucial for Bollywood, which has so far stuck to the eight-week window between theatrical and digital release

NEW DELHI: American streaming service, Amazon Prime Video, will premier seven Indian films across languages on its platform as movie theatres remain shut indefinitely due to the lockdown. The Jeff Bezos-owned platform, ready to launch direct-to-digital films, had said it only streams films already released in theatres.

Director Shoojit Sarkar’s comedy drama, Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, and Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi: Human Computer, are the two major Bollywood offerings. Amazon Prime has also acquired Ponmagal Vandhal, a Tamil legal drama starring Jyothika and directed by JJ Fredrick, two Kannada films, Law directed by Raghu Samarth and French Biryani featuring actors Danish Sait, Sal Yusuf, and Pitobash, a Tamil Telugu bilingual called Penguin starring Keerthy Suresh, and a Malayalam movie, Sufiyum Sujathayum starring Aditi Rao Hydari and Jayasuruya.

Ponmagal Vandhal will be the first one to premier on 29 May, followed by Gulabo Sitabo on 12 June. Amazon plans to stream all these films between May and July.

The move is crucial both for Bollywood, which has so far stuck to the eight-week window between theatrical and digital release, and Amazon that has only picked up films with theatrical validation.

“We’ve worked closely with our producer and studio partners in this challenging time to help bring the great content that they’ve made with passion and hard work to different customer segments," said Vijay Subramaniam, director and head, content, Amazon Prime Video India.

Subramaniam admitted that the company so far was committed to its policy of acquiring films with only theatrical release but these are unusual times for players across the entertainment ecosystem, from producers to streaming platforms.

“They are extremely happy and enthusiastic about the fact that they we will be able to take these films to people at a time when they are deprived of fresh entertainment and see it as a big opportunity," Subramaniam said, referring to filmmakers. He also said he did not want to speculate on whether the service would continue to acquire films without theatrical release even after normalcy is restored.

In a statement, Gulabo Sitabo director Shoojit Sarkar said this is the dawn of a new era for Indian entertainment.

“I am happy that a global audience will be able to watch our gritty dramedy, and enjoy what the film has in store for them," he added.

While Subramaniam declined to comment on whether the films had been acquired for prices higher than what the service would have offered had they come post theatrical release, industry experts say the filmmakers have an edge, at least in some cases.

Eager to please audiences sitting at home, video streaming platforms are hungry to dish out fresh content consistently and lap up films. So, while a film such as Gulabo Sitabo would normally sell for 20-25 crore to a digital platform post its theatrical release, easily recovering its 25 crore budget, its producers are now in a position to command more, possibly in excess of 30 crore.

“Our producer partners see how we’ve marketed our originals and are confident we will do exactly the same (for these films) so they don’t have to worry about marketing and distribution and that we will go super deep into India across 4,000 plus towns and into the world," said Gaurav Gandhi, director and country general manager, Amazon Prime Video India.

This does not augur well for film theatre owners who already face zero revenues and have made multiple pleas to filmmakers to wait for theatres to reopen instead of releasing directly on digital.

“MAI would like to urge all studio partners, producers, artistes and content creators to support the cinema exhibition sector, a vital part of the value chain by holding and releasing their films in the theatres once they open again," the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) had said in a statement earlier this month.

The Gulabo Sitabo announcement was followed by INOX Leisure Ltd calling the producer’s move ‘alarming and disconcerting,’ adding that the chain reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures against such ‘fair weather friends.’

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