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NEW DELHI: Cinema owners are on the edge as the release date of Akshay Kumar's Bellbottom nears--27 July--amid a visible lack marketing activity around the film and no sign of Delhi and Maharashtra theatres opening up.

Also, a unabated rise in covid cases in Kerala has resulted in extreme uncertainty over the release of Mohanlal’s big Malayalam film Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham scheduled for 12 August. Tensions have escalated with Bellbottom eyeing an OTT (over-the-top) premiere within three weeks of theatrical release that is likely to lead multiplexes to boycott it altogether. The few cinemas, including single screens, in states that have been permitted to resume operations on the other hand, may not want to open just for one film with no clarity on the line-up after that.

As of now, states such as Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have permitted cinema halls to reopen.

“Cinemas are in a state of flux as far as the release of Bellbottom is concerned. But multiplexes are clear they will not play a film that goes on OTT in less than four weeks of theatrical release," said a trade expert on condition of anonymity who confirmed the Akshay Kumar film is looking at an OTT premiere by mid-August.

The producers of Bellbottom are inspired by the model followed by Tamil star Vijay’s film Master that premiered on Amazon Prime Video this January, two weeks after its theatrical release in what cinemas accepted as a one-off instance given their dire straits and the huge draw the actor commands at the box office.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, said only the Bellbottom producers could talk about the film’s release plans and that it was too early to comment on the window without clarity on how many states would reopen theatres in the coming weeks.

Pooja Entertainment, co-producers of Bellbottom, did not respond to Mint’s queries on whether they planned to go ahead with a theatrical release and possible window for digital premiere.

Multiplex chains that have already incurred huge losses in the past year-and-a-half with the film exhibition business contracting 67% do not wish for this to become a trend, the trade expert mentioned above said, but do not have the option to make too much noise right now. “In fact, some smaller Hindi films are even looking at a 10-day window in the coming months," the person added.

Bihar-based cinema owner Vishek Chauhan said multiplex chains may give the film a cold shoulder but independent exhibitors like him will be more than happy to play Bellbottom regardless of its OTT release date. “Movie-going audiences and those at home are completely different and we are not insecure," Chauhan said. He, however, said that even if Delhi and Maharashtra are allowed to open this month, the 27th July release date would be cutting it too close. Also, since cases in Kerala remain high, it may not be a good time even for Marakkar, he said.

"The producers of Bellbottom would need three to four weeks for promotions so only they can take a call on whether they want to stick to the release date," Rajendar Singh Jyala, chief programming officer – INOX Leisure Ltd said.

The two-week window for Master was a one-off decision given that it was a big film and that no other production house wanted to release its offering in cinemas at the time, he said. “Perhaps the window for digital premiere of films could be brought down from eight to four weeks for the initial period when producers don’t know how audiences will react, but once they gain confidence, the window will be back."

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