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Indian movie theatres are bracing themselves for the worst as more and more filmmakers eye direct-to-digital releases amid the uncertainty and indefinite closure of cinema halls owing to the coronavirus outbreak.

American streaming service Amazon Prime Video has announced the acquisition of seven films meant for theatrical release that will now go directly to digital. Apart from director Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo and Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi: Human Computer, there are five films across languages that have bypassed theatres as their reopening remains uncertain.

Theatre chains have responded by threatening filmmakers with “retributive 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 over-the-top (OTT) platform by skipping the theatrical window run," the multiplex chain said in a statement post the Gulabo Sitabo announcement on Thursday. INOX at present 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 said.

Such acts paint these content creators as fair-weather friends and the chain will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures against them, it said. INOX did not respond to Mint’s queries on what these measures could be.

Another multiplex chain, Carnival Cinemas, is also disappointed but recognises that the move is born out of compulsion and producers know that the total revenue from theatrical and other streams will always be greater than that from an OTT platform alone, said its chief executive officer (CEO) Mohan Umrotkar.

“They are within their rights 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 taking films to digital becomes a trend," Umrotkar said.

PVR Pictures,too, is disappointed with some producers deciding to go straight to the streaming platforms, said its CEO, Kamal Gianchandani.

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," the Guild said on Friday morning.

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