NEW DELHI: Director Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo that starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video this Friday is the first high-profile, A-list Bollywood film to skip a theatrical release amid the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the extensive conversation around over-the-top or OTT platforms eating into the business of desperate theatre owners, who plead with producers to wait for cinemas to reopen, industry experts say the buzz around the film is lukewarm.
“The conversation around the film automatically becomes limited to the audience universe that watches the platform, which in this case, is an upmarket, urban, educated crowd. But even for the limited audience base, the approach doesn’t seem too aggressive" film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar pointed out.
According to a report by Media Partners Asia, an independent provider of research, advisory and consulting services across the media, entertainment, sports, telecoms, and technology industries, Amazon Prime Video has notched up a subscriber base of 17 million in India. Not only is that a small chunk of the total internet audience base, the service has also only brought out the film’s trailer, the audio jukebox and a couple of behind-the-scenes from the making as part of the marketing campaign.
In an earlier interview with Mint, talking about the direct-to-digital release of the seven films the company had acquired, Gaurav Gandhi, director and country general manager, Amazon Prime Video India, had said their producing partners saw how Amazon has marketed its originals and are confident it will do exactly the same for these films.
“So they don’t have to worry about marketing and distribution and that we will go super deep into India across 4,000 plus towns and into the world," Gandhi had added.
One reason for the subdued promotions could be the realisation that the world is dealing with a tragedy of epic proportions, Johar said and an aggressive approach could actually backfire. Notwithstanding the handful of interviews they’ve done, industry experts say a direct-to-digital release does not augur well for lead actors Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, especially the latter who was on a winning spree with hits like Bala ( ₹110.97 crore), Dream Girl ( Rs139.37 crore), Article 15 ( ₹65.17 crore), Andhadhun ( ₹73.37 crore), Badhaai Ho ( ₹134.46 crore), Shubh Mangal Savdhaan ( ₹41.98 crore) and Bareilly Ki Barfi ( ₹34.02 crore).
“I came to Mumbai to be an actor and watching myself on the big screen still gives me a high. If I had an option, I would’ve stuck to a theatrical release but this was the producer’s decision which I had no say in," Khurrana said in an interview to movie portal Film Companion earlier this week.
However, not all is lost for the film. Even though trade experts say the slice-of-life comedy had a shot at box office collections of Rs. 100 crore, the Rs. 65 crore sale to Amazon has easily helped recover its approximately Rs. 30 crore budget. Plus, given that there is no opening weekend to speak of, the film can discover an audience on the platform for its entire lifetime.
“Unlike theatrical films, which depend majorly on their first weekend to do well at the box office, a film releasing on OTT depends a lot more on reviews and word-of-mouth. Hence, buzz is essential for early traction in the first week. But the life of a good OTT film can be a few weeks, even months. So, the reviews and audience feedback will decide how big this film can be on OTT," said Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media consulting firm Ormax on whose platform Gulabo Sitabo ranked three in the list of top OTT offerings last week.