Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Ludo, Jhund to have a web release?

Updated: May 16, 2020, 07:27 IST | Mohar Basu, Uma Ramasubramanian | Mumbai

Industry divided over Gulabo Sitabo, Shakuntala Devi's direct-to-web release: exhibitors predict close to Rs 50 crore loss; Producers' Guild says filmmakers compelled to move to OTT due to the uncertain times.

Ayushmann Khurrana, Amitabh Bachchan in the film's still
Ayushmann Khurrana, Amitabh Bachchan in the film's still

On Thursday, Gulabo Sitabo became the first Bollywood film to bite the OTT bait, inviting the wrath of several exhibitors and distributors who felt betrayed that the makers had bypassed a theatrical release. Leading multiplex chain Inox immediately warned of "retributive measures" while PVR Cinemas urged filmmakers to hold off their projects till the theatres re-open. The rift only widened on Friday with Amazon Prime Video announcing the direct-to-web release of seven films, including Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi.

With two big releases — Sooryavanshi and 83 — waiting in the wings, trade sources indicate the industry has made losses upwards of Rs 600 crore, keeping in mind their domestic and overseas business, satellite rights, and OTT and music deals. The recent move has only added to the exhibitors' woes. "The distribution sector earns around Rs 75 crore from a big film, and about Rs 15 crore to Rs 25 crore from a medium-budget venture. Exhibitors and distributors are looking at a collective loss of around Rs 50 crore from Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi's OTT premiere," says a trade source.

Mohan Umrotkar, CEO, Carnival Cinemas, echoes the sentiment as he reasons that the two medium-budget films would have enjoyed strong footfalls once the theatres reopened. "Ayushmann Khurrana is having a golden run at the box-office, his film would have garnered close to Rs 75 crore. Couple that with Vidya's film, and the two would have generated close to Rs 95 crore at the box-office. So, we are staring at huge losses," he says.

However, he acknowledges that producers cannot wait indefinitely. "I understand there will be a rush of movies when the lockdown is lifted. That said, we were expecting them to stand by us because we are family."

Vidya Balan in Shakuntala Devi

Meanwhile, the Producers' Guild hasn't taken kindly to the aggressive stance adopted by Inox. Manish Goswami, vice-president, Guild, points out that producers have taken the step out of sheer necessity. "In such times, a stakeholder will only wait till a point, post which he will seek alternatives. After all, for the next six months, people won't have the confidence to go to theatres. They will not [take the risk of] community viewing unless it is a bumper project," he says.

Though refusing to take sides, trade analyst Taran Adarsh doesn't deny that filmmakers may be settling for less than their films' worth. "Assuming satellite deals stay intact, [the makers] are still losing out on their movies' overseas business. But my sympathies lie with the producers, who have been constantly asking about the possibility of theatres reopening. It's unfair to expect them to hold off their films [indefinitely]. It would help if producers and cinema owners enter a negotiation."

Will they? Will they not?

Gunjan Saxena and Laxmmi Bomb
Gunjan Saxena and Laxmmi Bomb

Over the next few weeks, key players in the digital market may acquire the rights of several Bollywood films. Sources say makers of Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Ludo and Jhund are in talks with streaming giants for a direct-to-web release. "They are all complete and awaiting release. Indoo Ki Jawaani, RoohiAfzana and Shiddat are in the last leg of post-production and may explore the digital route," says a trade source. Last month, this paper had reported that Akshay Kumar was contemplating releasing Laxmmi Bomb directly on Disney+Hotstar. "His films bring good revenue at the box-office," says Umrotkar, alluding that Laxmmi Bomb seeking an online release will be a severe blow for exhibitors.

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