Producers, exhibitors spar as films head to OTT platforms

Covid-19 has brought the film industry to a standstill. With no signs of ease in lockdown restrictions in the near future, filmmakers are now deciding to release their films digitally on OTT (Over the Top) platforms, causing a huge unease and furore among exhibitors like INOX, PVR, among others.

OTT platforms witnessed a massive boost amid lockdown as demand for online content increased by 40%. This has attracted the attention of big-ticket producers to do the “world premier” of their films online.

Some highly anticipated films have already announced their premier across five languages on Amazon Prime. Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushman Khurrana-starrer Gulabo Sitabo will be released on 12 June. Similarly, Shakuntala Devi’s biopic, in which actress Vidya Balan is playing the main lead, will also be released on Amazon Prime. The regional films too are witnessing this trend.

Tamil film Ponmagal Vandhal, starring actress Jyotika, for instance, will be released on 29 May and actress Keerthi Suresh’s film Penguin on 19 June. Aditi Rao Hydari and Jaya Surya-starrer Malayalam film Sufiyum Sujatayum will also be released on OTT. These movies will premiere across 200 countries and territories worldwide.

The decision to release films online hasn’t gone down well with the theatre owners. PVR Cinemas, in an official statement, said: “Needless to say, we are disappointed with some of our producers deciding to go straight to streaming platforms. We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinema halls are reopened.

That said, this is not the first time films are being premiered on streaming platforms. Cinema hall has regularly faced competition from new emerging distribution platforms over the last many years, and it has continued to enjoy cine-goers patronage and affinity.” INOX group took a bitter dig at the decision taken by producers and said that such acts “vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership” and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather lifelong partners.

“INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends,” an official press statement said. Amid the growing discontent and dispute, Disney and Hotstar have acquired a licence for Akshay Kumar’s film, Laxmmi Bomb, produced by Fox Star Studios. They have also roped in actress Jacqueline Fernandez to launch a first-of-its kind online dance competition — Home Dancer. Giving a respite to exhibitors, Yash Raj Films has announced that they won’t release any of their films online and will wait for theatres to reopen.

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