To be or not to be — as an unprecedented lockdown sent the cinemas under lock and key, filmmakers were faced the tough choice whether to lap up OTT offers or wait for cinemas to open sans any certainty. The lockdown saw big-ticket films — Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Gulabo Sitabo, Shakuntala Devi that had Vidya Balan play the lead, Gunjan Saxena with Janhvi Kapoor as The Kargil Girl and the sequel to Sadak – being released on the OTT platform.
This becoming the new norm even a more impressive slate of releases awaited when Lockdown 5 finally gave a nod for cinemas to open, although at 50 per cent capacity. With an impressive line up, including Laxmmi Bomb, having finalised deals with OTT platforms, do the makers feel the heat of missing out on the theatrical release?
“I am very happy that my film goes to 190 countries in 30 languages as a Netflix Original,” says Torbaaz producer Rahul Mittra. The story of triumph of human spirit weaved around suicide bombers; Mittra wanted it be seen in Romania and Afghanistan, just like Indian audiences have enjoyed Money Heist. And that Netflix is planning a big launch makes its producer happy. “Torbaaz is a very special film to Sanju and me. We are really excited about its release.”
Now that cinemas are going to be open by mid-October, does Mittra feel he has missed out? “Look, nobody arm-twisted me for an OTT release. I recovered the cost, add to it the profit and the wide audience; I have no complaints. At the same time, he doesn’t deny the beauty of cinematic experience. “Release format aside, content is the king. With such a huge increase in content consumption, the debate is no more cinemas versus OTT, but whether both can coexist and thrive,” says Mittra. An alumnus of St John’s, Chandigarh, Mittra also plays the head of Afghan army in Torbaaz.
It’s a gamble
“The Big Bull would go straight to OTT and not be in theatre, and I believe that is the best bet in the current scenario,” says Kookie Gulati. Directed by him, The Big Bull is slated for a Disney+Hotstar release. “As a director I want my film to reach as many viewers as possible, OTT works well here. While I am not saying that it can beat the all-immersive cinema experience, but given that we are still learning to deal with the pandemic that is a viable option,” says Gulati.
Are OTT platforms able to match earnings that theatrical release could fetch? “Well, this film is produced by Ajay Devgn and I am assuming he has fetched a good deal. With time different arrangements are being made; for example Khaali Peeli is supposedly going to be paid per view so there would be different permutations and combinations to be seen in near future even on OTT.” The Big Bull is a biographical crime drama based on stockbroker Harshad Mehta’s life with Abhishek Bachchan in the lead role.
Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President, Yoodlee Films, which has two films —Comedy Couple (October 21 on Zee5 premium) and Bahut Hua Samman (October 2 on Hotstar), welcomes the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow cinema halls to reopen. “The film industry has seen extremely challenging times. I am quite sure this move would translate into a surge of optimism for the millions of people associated directly and indirectly with the industry. It is time to adapt and move forward, and accept the new normal. Together we have to fight this.”