With the nationwide lockdown continuing because of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic, many Indian filmmakers have decided to release their movies directly on streaming platforms. While Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana's film Gulabo Sitabo will have the world premiere on Amazon Prime Video on June 12, 2020, Vidya Balan's Shakuntala Devi will also release directly on the web.
However, some exhibitors are unhappy with this decision. Post the announcement of Gulabo Sitabo's digital release, INOX, which is one of the major theatre chains in the country, expressed dissatisfaction over films going directly to over-the-top (OTT) platforms and skipping the theatrical release entirely.
Another major theatre chain, PVR, expressed their displeasure over this release model. Kamal Gianchandani, CEO, PVR Pictures told HuffPost, "We are disappointed with Gulabo Sitabo's decision to go straight to a streaming platform. We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their film's release till cinemas reopened."
Following this, the Producers Guild of India responded to major theatre chains' criticism over direct-to-web releases of films, with an official statement.
Here's the full statement of the Producers Guild of India:
"We are in unprecedented times, facing one of the greatest public health and economic emergencies of our lifetimes. This is a time for the entire film industry to come together with empathy and support for the difficult predicament that each of our constituents finds themselves in - from producers, distributors, exhibitors, daily wage earners and technicians, to the thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods are in some way dependent on our industry.
Hence at a time like this, it is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging from some of our colleagues in the exhibition sector. Statements that call for "retributive measures" against producers who decide to take their movies direct to OTT platforms -especially at a time when cinemas are unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future - do not lend themselves to a constructive or collaborative dialogue on the way forward for the industry.
The production sector (just like the exhibition sector) is suffering hundreds of crores of losses on a daily basis -
- Elaborate and expensive sets erected for under-production films have had to be taken down due to no date in sight for shoots to resume, with the sunk cost of the set and studio rentals to be borne completely by producers - as insurers refuse to cover the cost. Shoot schedules have had to be abruptly cancelled due to the lockdown, with huge cancellation charges being borne completely by the producer - again with no support from insurers.
- Interest costs are mounting on amounts raised to fund films, with producers having to bear this additional burden with no date in sight for cinemas to re-open; in fact with the knowledge that cinemas may be one of the last sectors of the service sector likely to be given permission to re-open.
- Re-opening of cinemas is bound to be staggered across the country, with each State government rightly making its own decision on the appropriate time to re-open cinemas in their State, depending on the intensity of the outbreak there. Producers of Hindi movies will have to wait for cinemas across the entire country to re-open, as the economics of the business require an All India release. For cinemas to be open across the entire country, it is clear we are sometime away.
- Even when cinemas re-open across India, there is no guarantee that the Overseas theatrical market (which is a key component of the economics of Hindi films) will have resumed. Even if it has in some countries, it might not have in others, hence leading to additional loss of revenue for a producer.
- When cinemas re-open, we should be prepared for lower occupancies. One, because of the social distancing norms that will be both mandated and necessary for public safety. Secondly, because of the inevitable concern that cinema-goers will have about venturing back into public spaces.
- In addition to this, there will be a huge backlog of releases, and the smaller and medium scale films especially will suffer from sub-optimal showcasing in addition to all the concerns above.
Given this combination of factors, it is only natural that Producers who have already invested heavily in their films with theatrical revenue assumptions that are no longer feasible, will seek out all avenues available to recover their investment and to stay in business. At a time like this, it is important that each stakeholder understands and empathises with the predicament of the other, rather than adopting an adversarial stance which is counter-productive for the entire value chain.
The Producers Guild would like to emphasise that we are unequivocally and passionately supportive of the theatrical release of films, and a theatrical release will always be the preference for movies that were conceptualised as cinematic experiences. But these are unprecedented times for all the reasons mentioned above, and it is imperative to see things in that context. For producers to continue to keep "producing" the movies that light up our cinema screens, they need to continue to be in business in the first place.
The production fraternity would like to work collaboratively with the exhibition sector to ensure that once cinemas do re-open across the country, we do all we can to bring audiences back in large numbers to experience our movies in the way they were always meant to be enjoyed - at the theatres."