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Theatre owners feel producers may arm-twist them for a shorter window between theatrical and digital releases of films.ap
Theatre owners feel producers may arm-twist them for a shorter window between theatrical and digital releases of films.ap

Exhibitors feel the heat despite restart

This is first likely to play out in the form of a shortened window between theatrical and digital premiere of films, which was stipulated at eight weeks before the pandemic for Hindi films.

Theatre owners across India are bracing for tough times and unfavourable terms with producers even as they try to resume operations after seven months of shutdown.

Cinema owners said filmmakers may try to arm-twist them as they are on the back foot, with the possibility of limited footfall even after theatres reopen, as people are wary of being around strangers in closed spaces.

This is first likely to play out in the form of a shortened window between theatrical and digital premiere of films, which was stipulated at eight weeks before the pandemic for Hindi films.

“Producers will definitely push for a shorter window, but they don’t realise that many parts of India don’t get to see the film in the first few days or weeks and that it takes time for the offering to penetrate deep into the country," said Bihar-based independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan. If films, especially those featuring non-mainstream actors and made on small budgets are taken to digital platforms without theatrical releases being given enough time, cinema may lose its mass market audience, he said.

“If people such as those in small towns face a lack of content, their habit of going to movies is often broken as they find other ways to seek entertainment," Chauhan said.

At present, in the first week of a movie’s run, revenue is shared equally between the producers and exhibitors, while in the second week, there is 60:40 divide in favour of the exhibitor, which changes to 70:30 in the third week.

“The revenue share may now just depend on the individual film and its prospects," independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said.

Several terms such as shortening of windows were in negotiation even before covid struck, said P.V. Sunil, managing director at Carnival Cinemas. However, trade experts pointed out that the pandemic has accelerated these changes by several years.

How much theatre chains in India agree to give in remains to be seen. Multiplexes refusing to screen titles such as Gulabo Sitabo and Dil Bechara, which had already gone to OTT platforms during the pandemic, even in these desperate times, is a strong statement in itself.

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