Photo: Twitter (@RSVPMovies)
Photo: Twitter (@RSVPMovies)

Hindi films prefer token theatrical release before going to digital platforms

  • A lot of studios feel their brand would be impacted if they take a film straight to digital
  • Hindi film industry makes around 2,000 films a year, but there’s space for only 200-300 releases

NEW DELHI : The reach and exposure of video streaming platforms aside, a bunch of small recent films ultimately decided on theatrical release after mulling over a digital release for months. Intended for viewing on video streaming platforms, Fox Star Studios’ Lootcase will first release in theatres in April. Ronnie Screwvala’s musical production Bhangra Paa Le and Viacom18 Motion Pictures’ Shimla Mirchi, both of which released in cinema halls earlier this year, may have recovered only 20% of their investment from theatrical earnings by insisting on a token release without any buzz or marketing preceding them. But industry experts say the charm of the big screen remains besides the fact that a lot of films can only go for satellite TV telecast and streaming on digital post a theatrical release.

“All filmmakers and artistes realize that theatrical brings with it a large mass audience pie. It’s a mindset thing, that OTT (over-the-top) streaming platforms still constitute an up-market, young base whereas when you make a film, you want as many people to watch it as possible," film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said.

While Fox is said to have re-evaluated the potential of Lootcase and then decided on a theatrical release, a spokesperson for Ronnie Screwvala Productions said the company “had only delayed the film and did not take it to a digital platform." However, listings on movie tracking website Bollywood Hungama clearly mentioned a digital release for the Sunny Kaushal-starrer until December after which it was released in theatres in January. Viacom18 did not respond to Mint’s queries. Bhangra Paa Le and Shimla Mirchi made Rs. 52 lakh and Rs. 3 lakh at the box office respectively.

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema pointed out that a lot of studios feel their brand would be impacted if they take a film straight to digital.

“It’s still not a mainstream strategy," Mohan said referring to new trend where films like Karan Johar’s Drive, Yoodlee Films’ Brij Mohan Amar Rahe and Ascharyachakit and Emraan Hashmi-starrer Tigers premiered directly on streaming platforms. It stems from the fact that India is a severely under-screened country and cannot accommodate all the films that are made annually. The Hindi film industry makes around 2,000 films a year, but there’s space for only 200-300 to release in the 9,601 theatres in the country. Around 30-40% of the films made in the past five years have not been released. Apart from the production budget, the studio would have to spend at least Rs. 8-10 crore on publicity and distribution to ensure a decent release in a minimum of 750 screens. Once the studio evaluates the potential of the product on hand and sees that box office of more than Rs. 5-6 crore is unlikely, the whole ballgame doesn’t really make business sense.

However, since many films come with a reputation of being dumped on streaming platforms once there were no other alternatives left, filmmakers want to steer clear of giving out that signal. They also bank on the fact that they can recover 50-60% of the investment by selling the satellite and digital rights of the film after its release in theatres.

“For satellite release, theatrical is a pre-condition," Mohan pointed out. Further, even services like Amazon Prime Video insist on only picking up films that have had a release in theatres.

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