It goes without saying that the ongoing lockdown has dealt a severe blow to Bollywood’s business. And with no clarity in sight about theatres re-opening in the near future, it seems Hindi film-makers have started to consider releasing their relatively smaller movies directly on OTT platforms. In fact, the first ones off the hook – officially-speaking – are Shoojit Sircar-directed Gulabo Sitabo, Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Ghoomketu and Vidya Balan-starrer Shakuntala Devi.
Shakuntala Devi is the latest film to follow suit and release on an OTT platform
Not just that, there have been talks that a number of other films such as Laxmmi Bomb, Jhund, Ludo, Khaali Peeli, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Shershaah and Roohi Afzana among others may also go the OTT way. Apparently, Ali Abbas Zafar’s superhero film starring Katrina Kaif, to be made in two parts, has also been acquired by an OTT platform.
Trade expert, Taran Adarsh feels the “industry is divided on this [Gulabo Sitabo being the first Hindi film to officially go on an OTT platform] as exhibitor-theatre owners may not like it.” He adds: “I understand that the producers may be feeling the pinch vis-à-vis their investments but theatres will eventually open soon and they would also need content to run.”
Ghoomketu stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui and also features his long-time collaborator Anurag Kashyap
For producer Bhushan Kumar, it’s a “very tricky question.” “See, OTTs may be a viable option for smaller films but big-budget, tent-pole movies can’t do their entire recovery [of budgets] just from OTT platforms. For them, the theatrical business will be absolutely critical,” he says.
For the uninitiated, theatres have been shut since March and there have been no talks about them reopening anytime soon. Exhibitor-distributor Akshaye Rathi feels that a producer is “totally free to take a call, which is in his best interest”. “That way, exhibitors-distributors are also free to do that. Maybe, from now, we will judicious about giving certain amount of screen space to certain kind of films, which may be more suited to OTTs,” he says.
Rathi wants a “partnership in truest sense” with makers as “we are all in it together.” “The question isn’t about the next two quarters but of the coming 20 years’ relationship. You need to be a visionary and not trader at this point. Producers and exhibitors-distributors are two intrinsic parts of value chain, and we need to work in tandem,” he says.
Actors, on their part, feel “makers know and will do what’s best for their films.” As Kiara Advani, who stars in Laxmmi Bomb and Shershaah, puts it: “There are certain films, which are meant for only a cinematic experience, while others can go on OTTs.” On the other hand, Kriti admits she will be “sad” if her new film, Mimi were to release on OTT. “We are all watching stuff on OTT platforms [during lockdown]. But I feel it’s still doesn’t reach the masses but I want Mimi to reach the masses. And it’s also a beautiful film,” she said in an interview.