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Theatre owners in India are dismayed at the fact that top Hindi movie stars and filmmakers have not stood up for the theatrical business as more films release on digital platforms and no fresh content is available for cinema halls more than two months after they re-opened.

“Theatres across the country have been open since 15 October and Bollywood has chosen to be silent and ignorant (of the fact that the theatrical business has been wiped out and the absence of big films is only delaying the process of recovery)," Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan had said soon after Bollywood missed its big date with Diwali for the first time ever with no major star releases scheduled at least for the next two months.

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Bollywood, Chauhan had added, needs to understand people will come to theatres if the content is compelling enough. Often, in India, that translates into films featuring popular stars. But not only have the biggest names such as Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ranveer Singh, chosen to play safe with their movies Sooryavanshi, Radhe and ’83 now tentatively scheduled only for the first half of 2021, not one A-lister has spoken up in support of theatres, trade experts like Chauhan point out.

To be sure, the prolific south Indian industry has somewhat come to their rescue, with the strong buzz around Tamil superstar Vijay’s action film Master being slated for Pongal in January.

“A lot of actors are far too scared to take the box office test right now. Nobody wants their film to be labelled as a flop or underperformer, not realising that these are unusual times and any footfall in theatres will help," a senior executive at a movie studio said on condition of anonymity.

In contrast, with filmmakers increasingly unable to hold on to their finished projects and giving in to the lure and sizeable amounts offered by streaming platforms, theatre owners are understandably anxious about the future of their business.

They also fear that commercial terms and the lag between theatrical and digital premiere of films is unlikely to go back to the eight-week period, even after the pandemic is over. Alarm bells had rung when earlier this month Hollywood studio Warner Bros announced a unique, hybrid distribution model for its 2021 movie releases, all of which shall hit cinema screens the same day as their premiere on the company’s video streaming platform HBO Max. The move could relegate theatres to a secondary viewing medium and make recovery from the covid-19 pandemic, impossible, industry experts said.

To be sure, Warner Bros has faced flak from the US movie industry biggies. Tenet director Christopher Nolan questioned ethics of the move, given that the studio didn’t consult filmmakers whose movies were part of the list. Dune director Denis Villeneuve too said the move reeks of no love for cinema nor for the audience there, aimed at only enhancing prospects of telecom behemoth AT&T that owns Warner.

“Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theatres and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak. They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction," Nolan had said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

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