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Would Bollywood Switch To OTT Now That Mumbai Theatres Are Closed?

Experts in the film industry believe that the industry's financial woes have just gotten worse as a result of Covid

“Sooryavanshi” has been postponed. The Akshay Kumar-Katrina Kaif starred cop action film, which was supposed to be Bollywood’s first mega release of the year on April 30, has been pushed, with no new release date announced. The reason, of course, is the current Covid situation in Maharashtra.

The buzz is the production houses backing the film — Reliance Entertainment, Dharma Productions, Rohit Shetty Picturez, and Cape of Good Films — were never keen on putting up “Sooryavanshi”, an extravagant Rohit Shetty entertainer, for a direct-to-OTT release. According to sources, the makers are now assessing the situation. They will make a formal announcement around April 10 if they plan to drop the film directly on OTT irrespective of whether it gets a theatrical release.

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“Team Sooryavanshi postponed the release of the film. The Honorable Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray had a discussion with director Rohit Shetty yesterday. In the meeting, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray appreciated Rohit Shetty as he took the brave and difficult decision of postponing Sooryavanshi owing to the current COVID situation in the state,” a statement issued by the makers of the film on Monday evening reads.

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“Sooryavanshi,” a cop action film starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, has been postponed with no new release date scheduled. Wikimedia Commons

While Bollywood is in a tizzy over the current shutdown of the cinema business in Maharashtra, one of the most important markets for Hindi films, the fate of “Sooryavanshi” could have ramifications on film trade trends far beyond just the film. Being one of the most important Bollywood biggies of the year, the decision whether such a huge film goes directly to OTT could set the course for other films as far as future exhibition trends go (at least for now), in an industry that is quick to adapt herd mentality.

When cinemas opened up after last year’s lockdown, Bollywood was quick to announce a rich line-up of films, beginning March this year right up to the year-end. “Mumbai Saga”, among the first big commercial films to release in cinemas, fared below expectations, what with the public maintaining a cautious stance about visiting theatres. Still, the big films of big banners were undeterred and insisted they would go ahead with the release.

Among the most-hyped films whose release dates were confirmed over the next months were the Ranveer Singh-starrer cricket drama “83”, Salman Khan’s Eid 2021 release “Radhe”, Akshay Kumar’s “Bell Bottom” and “Prithviraj”, the Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” and the period drama “Shamshera” starring Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt.

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Maharashtra has closed its theatres, which account for more than 40% of box office revenue. Pixabay

While no announcement has been made on any of the above films yet, the release of the first lot of films, which were to open over the next few weeks, was already postponed even before the Maharashtra government officially decided to shut down halls owing to the second wave of Covid. These include the Amitabh Bachchan-Emraan Hashmi starrer “Chehre”, the Rani Mukerji-Saif Ali Khan starrer “Bunty Aur Babli 2”, and Rana Daggubati’s “Haathi Mere Saathi”.

Now, rumors abound that makers of many of these films are weighing the option of direct-to-OTT release and that negotiations might be on with digital platforms.

The film trade, however, would prefer to stay optimistic at this point. Most trade experts would rather take a wait-and-watch stance.

“These are speculations, we need to wait for the official announcements. The theatres have shut down so people tend to believe that big films will release on OTT. But let’s not speculate. These filmmakers might postpone and release in the theatres,” trade analyst Taran Adarsh tells IANS.

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Bollywood was swift to release a rich line-up of films as cinemas reopened after last year’s lockdown. Pixabay

Filmmaker Atul Mohan feels the situation right now is definitely uncertain.

“We might have official announcements in a few days. Whenever a project is delayed, 10 to 15 percent of the budget is lost. You need to restructure the schedules, get dates. Plus, you have to pay interest on the budget. For a 100-crore film, 15 to 20 crore worth interest is charged in a year,” he says.

Mohan adds: “Theatres have been shut in Maharashtra and these account for more than 40 percent of box office collections. It’s a huge market and cannot be ignored.”

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Film trade experts are unanimous in agreeing that, due to Covid, the film industry’s monetary suffering has only been worsening over the months since the first lockdown in March last year.

“In 2019, we made a profit of Rs 4,400 crore, but last year, in three months, we made only Rs 600 crore, and this year, we have made only Rs 55 crore. The profit was going up but now most of it has been lost. We lost Rs 3,500-4,000 crore in 2020. I don’t see movies making this kind of money in the near future,” says Mohan. (IANS/KB)

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