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Bollywood’s preference for direct-to-digital releases continues unabated despite movie theatres across India resuming operations since 15 October.

While Parineeti Chopra-starrer The Girl On The Train just announced a Netflix release, John Abraham and Emraan Hashmi’s Mumbai Saga was sold to Amazon Prime Video, according to a report by movie website Bollywood Hungama. Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom and Kartik Aaryan’s Dhamaka are also eyeing over-the-top (OTT) releases.

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Trade analysts and entertainment industry experts said digital has emerged stronger than ever before during the pandemic and is unlikely to go away any time soon, despite theatre owners urging filmmakers to release films for big screens to help in the recovery of the industry.

“Medium- and small-budget films will always have that option now to go directly to a streaming platform whereas the big films that need theatrical validation to fully recoup their investments will obviously not see OTT as a viable strategy," film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said. Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, sports drama ’83 and Salman Khan’s Radhe are preparing for theatrical releases. So will other big-ticket movies, but smaller titles will be as important for OTT players as their own originals, Johar added.

Reliance Entertainment, the producer of The Girl On The Train; T-Series, which produced Mumbai Saga; Pooja Entertainment, producers of Bell Bottom and Equinox Films, producers of Dhamaka; did not respond to Mint’s queries.

“The economics make sense. For stars like Chopra, producers may not see sense in spending an additional 8-10 crore for publicity and advertising on a film made on a budget of 15 crore when a streaming platform is ready to cough up around 20 crore with no distribution or marketing costs. It helps to keep the business cycle going when a production house has bigger films in the pipeline that it has to fund," a senior executive at a production house said, referring to Reliance Entertainment’s other big offerings.

PVR and Cinepolis declined to comment on new releases on digital platforms. INOX and Carnival cinemas also did not respond till press time.

Last week, independent exhibitor Vishek Chauhan had tweeted that the majority of Bollywood producers do not believe in theatrical medium anymore and have moved to digital. “It’s bad luck...but I’m a cinema owner and will survive this." Chauhan highlighted the plight of the ailing sector and said that films such as Mumbai Saga could do much to bring masses back to theatres.

Meanwhile, streaming platforms are unlikely to let this opportunity go. Pratiksha Rao, director, content acquisition, Netflix India, said it wants to be the home for most entertaining films in India, and The Girl On The Train is a great addition to its existing library.

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