NEW DELHI :
Opting for a digital release may seem like a smart choice for filmmakers in this time of a lockdown. However, film theatre owners, their integral business partners for long, are not too pleased with this change in tack.
The film exhibition sector is dealing with zero revenue and the biggest loss ever to their business. Theatre owners are actively discouraging filmmakers from taking their films to streaming platforms instead of waiting for theatre releases.
The Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association has taken strong objection to a decision to release actor Jyothika’s courtroom drama Ponmagal Vanthal on Amazon Prime Video.
The association’s general secretary, Panneerselvam, has released a video stating that films starring Jyothika’s husband Suriya, who has also produced Ponmagal Vanthal, would not be released in theatres if the move is not shelved.
Movies that are made for theatrical release should be shown on the big screen first, Panneerselvam said.
Ponmagal Vanthal will be the first Tamil film to release directly on a digital platform.
And when reports also emerged of Akshay Kumar’s horror comedy Laxmmi Bomb, a remake of Tamil superhit Muni 2: Kanchana, being considered for over-the-top (OTT) release, more theatre owners feared the worst.
“My request to Akshay Kumar to support theatres and not release Laxmmi Bomb directly on OTT," Bihar-based exhibitor Vishek Chauhan tweeted on Saturday along with an open letter to the actor, about the movie that was slated for release this Eid.
“You releasing your film directly on OTT will justify the medium and make theatres irrelevant. It will trigger consumer behaviour changes justifying digital as the main medium of film consumption. It might even open the floodgates for others to follow. If a star of your stature can bypass theatrical release, it puts our existence in question. We basically become redundant," Chauhan wrote.
Chauhan said he speaks for the thousands of theatre owners and millions employed in cinemas across India and the ancillary units who depend upon cinemas for their livelihood. “It (releasing the film on OTT) will be a catastrophic move on your part and will push this (theatre) industry into oblivion," Chauhan wrote.
Neither Kumar nor his co-producers have made any official announcement on the release. A message sent to the team remained unanswered.
Trade experts estimate losses of ₹80-90 crore per week as theatres have remained shut since mid-March.
The big worry for exhibitors is that viewers, especially families, will fear stepping out into large crowds even after theatres reopen. The only glimmer of hope, in this scenario, will be big-ticket star vehicles that can draw large numbers.