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The covid-19 pandemic has had what could be a trend-setting impact on the Indian film industry. Unwilling to wait for the end of the lockdown, a bunch of filmmakers have decided to take their movies to video streaming platforms instead of queuing up for theatrical release when theatres reopen.

Among the titles finalized are director Shoojit Sarkar’s Amitabh Bachchan- and Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Gulabo Sitabo, whose rights have been acquired by Amazon Prime Video, and Akshay Kumar-starrer Laxmmi Bomb, whose co-producers Fox Star Studios will stream the horror comedy on their own service Disney+Hotstar, according to people familiar with the development.

Co-producers Fox Star Studios will stream horror comedy Laxmmi Bomb on their own service Disney+Hotstar.
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Co-producers Fox Star Studios will stream horror comedy Laxmmi Bomb on their own service Disney+Hotstar.

There are also several titles still under negotiation, including Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi-Human Computer, Bhumi Pednekar-starrer Durgavati, Karan Johar’s Gunjan Saxena-The Kargil Girl featuring Jahnvi Kapoor, two more Amitabh Bachchan films, Jhund and Chehre, and Anurag Basu-directed Ludo starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aditya Roy Kapur.

Production company T-Series is reportedly in talks with Netflix for its entire 2020 slate, which includes Kiara Advani-starrer Indoo Ki Jawani .

Amazon, Disney and the producers of these movies did not respond to Mint’s queries but Chehre producer Anand Pandit confirmed that a digital release is being considered.

“Tentpoles such as Sooryavanshi and ’83 are anyway out of reach for OTTs (because digital sales will not help recoup their 100 crore plus budgets) and they will push people to theatres whenever they reopen. However, there is an upper-mid range of films, which would anyway have been second to the biggies, that these platforms are picking up now," a producer negotiating for his own film said on condition of anonymity.

The move is crucial both for Bollywood, which has so far stuck to the eight-week window between theatrical and digital release as well as services such as Amazon that have only picked up films with theatrical validation. “The theatrical experience is very important. That’s why we insist on picking movies that have a theatrical release. We know it’s a very important community exercise," Vijay Subramaniam, director and head of content at Amazon Prime Video India, said in an earlier interview.

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

However, the same is not the case with Laxmmi Bomb, said a senior executive from a top streaming platform. This film is only being sold in-house and “since Disney+ Hotstar and Star TV had the digital and satellite rights All they have to do is pay the co-producers some more for what may have come from the latter’s share in theatrical profits".

“Even streaming platforms come with annual allocated budgets so acquisition prices cannot shoot up astronomically," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema. What services can do is reduce the number of films they acquire but pay more for coveted titles, especially those contemplating opting out of the theatrical race. Raising subscription rate is not seen as an option in India. “All services know India is a price sensitive market and the average consumer will definitely not be able to pay much more," Mohan said, referring to the fact that this will be a mid-to-long-term investment for the streaming services who will not be able to monetize on the movies instantly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lata Jha

Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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