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Cinemas have been shut for over four months now following the coronavirus pandemic. (File Photo: Reuters)
Cinemas have been shut for over four months now following the coronavirus pandemic. (File Photo: Reuters)

Indian films may see staggered release once theatres re-open

  • India battles rampant piracy of movies and a film being screened in any part of the country is likely to make its way to others in a matter of hours

NEW DELHI: The reopening of cinemas in India may mark the end of age-old practice of releasing films the same day across geographies. Trade experts and theatre owners say it is no longer feasible to wait for the entire country to open up and and thus some locations may see a movie before others.

"We would love to do a simultaneous release but have to adapt to the new reality and the truth is lockdowns in some cities which are red zones may continue longer than others and we will have to look at staggered film releases," Kamal Gianchandani, director at the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) said. "So if the government decides, for example, that cinemas in Tamil Nadu cannot reopen, a Tamil film will hold back but a Hindi film can release (in other markets)."

On the other hand, depending on the situation, if some southern states show a dip in infections going forward, movies in their native languages can arrive in theatres.

“For Tamil and Telugu, their individual states account for 90-95% of the box office and their dependence on the Hindi market is minimal," Mohan Umrotkar, chief executive officer, Carnival Cinemas said.

To be sure, the bigger challenges will be for Hindi and Hollywood films with even the dubbed versions of the latter usually releasing pan-India and the big titles among them raking in around 4,500-5,000 screens. Hindi-speaking markets like Delhi and Mumbai account for over 50% of the business of Bollywood and Hollywood movies, and will be crucial markets that required to tracked.

The move comes on the back of Hollywood biggie, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet having announced plans to debut in theatres in 70 overseas territories, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United Kingdom end of August while a staggered release in domestic territory US will follow, with key locations such as Los Angeles unlikely to reopen.

However, unlike the US, India battles rampant piracy of movies and a film being screened in any part of the country is likely to make its way to others in a matter of hours. According to a report by Irdeto, a global solutions provider in digital platform security and media and entertainment, the Indian media and entertainment industry loses $2.8 billion of its annual revenue to piracy. India is among the top five countries in peer-to-peer downloading.

“With Internet and smartphone penetration, films can travel across the globe in less than three hours," Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said. Plus, most of the pirated content comes from small towns where theatres are likely to open up sooner. Further, in this age of social media, where word-of-mouth travels fast, people will not want to pay to watch a film that does not carry good reports from other centres where it has already released.

“If a film is trashed in India, it will not even find takers overseas," Mohan pointed out.

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