Movie theatre owners on edge as films go digital

  • Amazon Prime Video, will premier seven films including Gulabo Sitabo, directly on its platform
  • Film theatre chains have responded by threatening filmmakers with retributive measures

Lata Jha
Updated15 May 2020
A still from Gulabo Sitabo. Amazon Prime Video has acquired the rights for the film.
A still from Gulabo Sitabo. Amazon Prime Video has acquired the rights for the film.

NEW DELHI: Indian film theatres brace themselves for the worst as filmmakers bypass the theatrical route and eye direct-to-digital releases due to the uncertainty surrounding the closure of cinema halls during the coronavirus-induced national lockdown.

American streaming service, Amazon Prime Video, will premier seven films, earlier meant for theatrical release, directly on its platform and multiplex chains are not pleased. Besides director Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo and Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi: Human Computer, there are five films across languages to be directly launched on Amazon. Theatre chain, INOX, has responded by threatening filmmakers with “retributive measures”.

INOX did not respond to Mint’s queries on details of the measures.

“INOX would like to express extreme displeasure and disappointment on an announcement made by a production house today to release their movie directly on an OTT (over-the-top) platform by skipping the theatrical window run,” the multiplex chain said in a statement post the Gulabo Sitabo announcement on Thursday. INOX currently operates 626 screens across 68 cities.

“The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting,” it added.

In the US too, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and movie chain, AMC Theatres, have refused to play Universal titles after its decision to put out Trolls World Tour on premium video-on-demand. Back home, the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association has strongly objected to the decision of Jyothika’s Ponmagal Vanthal releasing on Amazon.

Mohan Umrotkar, chief executive officer (CEO), Carnival Cinemas, said while the company is disappointed, it recognises that the move is borne out of compulsion and producers know that the sum total of revenue from theatrical and other streams will always be greater than that from an OTT platform alone.

“They are within their right to do so. But we are a big industry with deep roots and it is now up to the people of India to support the cinema business that provides employment to so many people and could do with so much investment that may be derailed if this (taking films to digital) becomes a trend,” Umrotkar said.

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures, said the company was disappointed with the move. “That said, this is not the first time films are being premiered on a streaming platforms. Cinema exhibition has regularly faced competition from new emerging distribution platforms over the last many years, and it has continued to enjoy cine-goers patronage and affinity,” he added.

Shares of PVR Ltd and INOX Leisure Ltd hit their respective 52-week lows in early deals on Friday, slumping 4% each on the BSE.

The Producers Guild of India has, however, stood by its members.

“It is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging from some of our colleagues in the exhibition sector. Statements that call for 'retributive measures' against producers who decide to take their movies directly to OTT platforms-especially at a time when cinemas are unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future-do not lend themselves to a constructive or collaborative dialogue on the way forward for the industry,” said a statement issued by the Guild on Friday.

Karan Taurani, research analyst at Elara Capital Ltd, called the OTT release of movies a temporary phase. Not only do Indians have limited entertainment options, the big films that people enjoy on the big screen cannot recoup their investment from OTT alone.

“The only big risk is that if cinemas open up, there could be a second wave of virus and the lockdown could be reinforced, which is an unforeseen situation,” Taurani said.

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