In what could be termed as the biggest Direct-to-Home movie acquisition by an online streaming platform, the upcoming Shoojit Sircar film Gulabo Sitabo being available in 200 countries worldwide on June 12 has ensured things will never be the same. The news of the Juhi Chaturvedi penned comedy featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana debuting on Amazon Prime Video has set the cat among the pigeons across a multitude of spectrums.
This might have potentially ushered in a new era of cinema in India by infusing enthusiasm for the viewer, nudging the film industry into this century, and most importantly, compel cinema halls to come to terms with certain realities, and for the want of a better expression, up their game.
For the past few years, a constant face-off persisted between filmmaking and the exhibition platform. The classicists insisted that material intended for an OTT platform could not be awarded the same respectability as movies made for cinema halls. It didn't matter if Academy award-winning stalwarts such as Alfonso Cuarón and Martin Scorsese or auteurs like Bong Joon-ho were in contention, the message from the likes of the Cannes Film Festival was clear - films refusing to release theatrically, debuting on streaming service or having day-to-day online and off releases weren't welcome. Netflix had to withdraw Bong Joon-ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories from competition from Cannes in 2018, as it was unable to secure last-minute permits for one-week theatrical release. A year later, Bong Joon-ho won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes for his black comic thriller Parasite. The thin ice that both sides were walking on had not appeared in India; well, not until the online debut of Sircar's film was announced.
Up until now, there would an almost two-month-long delay between the theatrical and digital release of a Hindi film. (Photo: Reuters)
Up until now, there would an almost two-month-long delay between the theatrical and digital release of a Hindi film. A day after announcing the premiere of Gulabo Sitabo, Amazon Prime released a list of additional six films in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam that would debut directly on its streaming service, a move that only makes things worse for theatre owners. The decision by Tamil superstar and producer Suriya to digitally release Ponmagal Vandhal, which features his wife, Jyothika, also invited a backlash against the actor. Theatre and multiplex owners threatened to block all future releases featuring Suriya if the actor went ahead. In light of the developments, theatre owners are disappointed. Following the initial shock and the bluster on their part, which included the multiplex chain INOX suggesting "retributive measures in dealing with such fair-weather friends", or PVR, India's largest multiplex chain operator, making it clear that it won't screen any movie that is not exclusively released in theatres first, cinema halls need to change the way of looking at things.
With the world fast adapting to the changes unleashed by the pandemic, the film industry needed to re-look at its mechanism. The same way cinema halls also need to adapt.
In some way, what platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and the ilk are doing is similar to what the advent of the multiplex chain did to single screen theatre. By banning films in an attempt to protect their turf, the theatre owners are disregarding their biggest asset - the viewer.
The nostalgia factor
The average audience has changed and is now willing to shell out money even while sitting at home to watch something a shade different. Rather than looking to the future, cinema halls should focus on the past. There is a great passion among the viewers to relive the glory days of cinema, and with that in mind, they would pay top bucks to re-watch classics such as Mughal-e-Azam, Guide, Teesri Manzil, Pakeezah, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Sholay and even movies from the 1980s and 1990s on the big screen. A few years ago, the iconic Regal in New Delhi showed Raj Kapoor's Mera Raam Joker and Sangam on the big screen as its last hurrah before shutting operations. The tickets sold out in the blink of an eye.
While there will be filmmakers such as Kabir Khan, who reportedly opted to wait for a theatrical release for his film, 83, despite being offered a whopping amount for a digital premiere of the film, cinema halls need to literally think out of the box.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)