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New Delhi: The move to release Salman Khan’s Radhe simultaneously online and in theatres has devastated cinema owners that were pinning hopes on the popular star's film to revive business.

While top multiplex chains will refrain from releasing the film wherever their cinemas are operational in India, single screen theatres feel an online release does not impact audience draw, especially in small towns. They want to play the film to get their business started.

However, as theatres remain shut in many states across the country, cinema owners are seeing their anxiety amplify with other films also considering this multi-release model in the coming months to recover interest costs. Pay-per-view platforms are impressing upon producers to release films online.

“This (releasing a film in theatres and on a pay-per-view or OTT platform on the same day) is an absolutely new model for India but probably the only way out given current circumstances where most theatres across the country are shut and the rest operating at 20-25% capacity and may be ordered to close any time," Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said.

Film producer and trade expert Girish Johar, however, pointed out the exhibition sector was banking heavily on big-ticket releases like Radhe to kickstart recovery after months of losses. “The model where films will no longer be exclusive to theatres upon release has added to their woes," Johar said. Moves like these only mean that recovery for the movie business will be further delayed when it is already projected to clock in losses of Rs. 3,000-4,000 crore in 2021 alone and that even more cinemas will shut down.

A trade expert who declined to be named said multiplexes are clear they will not play Radhe even where their properties are functional as showcasing a film that is simultaneously available on a digital platform will give other big banners and producers the leeway to experiment with release strategies and this model may gain permanence. Films like Sooryavanshi, ’83 and Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom, all of which are ready, have been in talks for a multi-platform release though there are no announcements yet. Reliance Entertainment, producer of Sooryavanshi and ’83 said the company hasn’t taken a final call on release strategy in response to Mint’s queries while the Bell Bottom team released a statement last week saying “any announcement regarding the imminent release of the film would be made by (producers) Pooja Entertainment at the opportune time."

“Given the current situation, we believed it is the right time to provide greater width to films, allowing the people to choose what they want to see. For concept films that enjoy a niche audience, the revenues generated via the TVoD (transaction video-on-demand) model are likely to be better than they do theatrically. At the same time, for a film like Radhe where we have opted for a hybrid release, we are expecting the numbers to go much higher. Hence, we are looking at developing an environment where along with the theatre, such options can co-exist," said Shariq Patel, chief business officer, Zee Studios declining to comment on upcoming titles.

PVR and INOX did not respond to Mint’s queries on whether the Radhe strategy was viable and if they would play the film. Cinepolis declined to comment.

“Movies going directly to OTT platforms is a temporary phenomenon. Also, TVoD has not seen much success be it in India or abroad, even during the pandemic so it is only a way out for filmmakers who want to release their films at the moment," Amit Sharma, chief executive officer at Miraj Cinemas said adding that when it comes to movies and superstars like Salman Khan, people prefer to watch them on the big screen. “So this is not going to be a permanent fixture, like we’ve seen post the first wave where many southern films completed their run in theatres. Once things are normal, we will go back to the pre-covid way of business," Sharma said.

Sanjay Ghai, chief operating officer of film production company Mukta Arts Ltd, who runs single-screen theatre Chandra Talkies in Muzaffarnagar said national chains may not play Radhe but the film could do well if single screens like theirs were allowed to screen it though several have been hit by state curbs. “Why would the common man watch the film on a mobile if it is playing on the big screen? Plus, not everyone has the required facilities at home," he said.

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