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A clutch of mass-market films both in Hindi and regional languages are enjoying extended audience draw in theatres even though they have been launched on streaming platforms. The trend highlights the fact that audiences in tier-two and tier-three towns may still not be as accustomed to streaming devices as the metro viewers and that the streaming services are happy to premiere films still running in theatres in an attempt to cash in on the buzz around them.

Film trade experts said horror comedy Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 is the latest to join hits like Pushpa: The Rise- Part One, Sooryavanshi and Master that premiered on streaming platforms within four weeks but managed to mint money alongside in theatres. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, for example, has made it to the top 10 non-English film list worldwide for Netflix while earning over Rs. 50 lakh in theatres each day over its fifth week in theatres.

“As you go down to tier-two and tier-three towns in India, people aren’t really regular OTT viewers. In fact, they also make for great walk-in crowd in cinemas, that is, audiences who go out to watch a film on an impulse to pass time," independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said. Released soon after reopening of cinemas in January 2021, Vijay’s Tamil film Master had started streaming on Amazon Prime Video on the 25th day in theatres but had also managed to run in cinemas for 50 days, earning over Rs. 162 crore in box office collections. Pillai said the latest hit in Tamil cinema, Kamal Haasan’s Vikram too is slated for an OTT release early July though it continues to go strong at the box office, having made Rs. 400 crore worldwide.

While a regular film could last one or two weekends at best, Pillai said theatres realise these big-ticket hits are hard to come by, especially after the pandemic when fewer films are drawing crowds to theatres. “They know that these proven hits will make money especially on weekends and a lot of people will not be deterred by the fact that the film is also streaming on an OTT platform," Pillai said.

Clearly theatre owners no longer seem to be complaining about the narrow window between cinema and digital debuts of films, given that they had threatened to ban stars who premiere their films directly on streaming platforms during the first few months of the covid-19 lockdown. For instance, in April 2020, the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association had taken strong objection to a decision to release actor Jyothika’s courtroom drama Ponmagal Vanthal on Amazon Prime Video. The association’s general secretary, Panneerselvam, had released a video stating that films starring Jyothika’s husband Suriya, who had also produced Ponmagal Vanthal, would not be released in theatres if the move is not shelved. Over time, not only have cinemas made peace with the fact that films will stream sooner on OTT than they used to but that they must milk these titles to their full potential. On their part, video streaming platforms want to cash in on the popularity of the films when it is at peak.

However, in an earlier interview, Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures Ltd had emphasized that producers and cinemas will revert to the erstwhile eight-week window by the end of July, 2022, for the digital release of films.

“It also shows that the price offered by OTTs has been too lucrative for producers to say no, when their films are already running successfully in cinemas," film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said.

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