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Big-ticket films eye post-August release

Following in the footsteps of Akshay Kumar’s Bellbottom, which has announced it will hit theatre screens on July 27, beginning August, a bunch of Hindi and regional-language films are eyeing theatrical releases. Most theatre owners expect state governments to allow cinemas to start re-opening from next month. Telangana has already permitted cinemas to re-open from July with 50% capacity.

Period drama RRR, action drama KGF: Chapter 2, Prabhas’ Radhe Shyam, Allu Arjun’s Pushpa, and Ajith’s Valimai are among movies with budgets close to 200 crore that should soon be ready for release, followed by other offerings like Karan Johar’s Brahmastra and Prabhas’ untitled film with Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan. The latter may take some more time to finish shooting.

Unlike smaller films which are signing up to appear on streaming platforms in less than a month of release in theatres, the big-ticket films, on the other hand, are selling theatrical distribution rights at exorbitant prices in the hope of an extended box office run. So, they are expected to premiere online only 70-100 days after cinemas.

RRR, for instance, has sold theatrical distribution, satellite TV and digital rights for a consolidated price of 350 crore, months before release. The film is director SS Rajamouli’s much-awaited venture after Baahubali.

The multilingual film will see its Hindi version premiere on Netflix while the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada versions will arrive on ZEE5 almost three months after theatres, the makers have said. Multiplex owners expect theatrical reopenings in key territories like Delhi and Mumbai to start by July, although states like Andhra Pradesh and Assam had not shut cinemas, even during the second wave.

“It has been seen that cinema exhibition always brings the maximum eyeballs and revenue for any film. People who are confident of their product know that theatrical release is the ultimate test of whether their film is a hit or flop, and will definitely look at having an extended run in cinemas before they commit to digital,” said Amit Sharma, chief executive officer at Miraj Cinemas adding that the pandemic-induced phenomenon of films going directly to streaming platforms or adopting a hybrid release model like Salman Khan’s Radhe is a short-lived one.

“As soon as normalcy sets in, we will go back to the old norm of waiting for a certain number of weeks before films premiere on digital platforms,” Sharma added.

A trade analyst, who declined to be named, said that most of these deals (committing to extended theatrical run) are on paper. “If a specific film doesn’t live up to expectations, producers can always cut short the cinema run to premiere on digital sooner and try and cover up their theatrical losses by asking the OTT platform for a higher rate,” the person said. However, in the case of a film like RRR, there is no doubt that the expectations are sky-high, the analyst pointed out.

Moreover, studio executives and trade analysts emphasize that premiering a film on digital soon after theatrical release saves the OTT platform the job and expense of a new round of publicity since there is already buzz and conversation around the movie which they can take advantage of.

“While larger films and makers usually dictate these norms, the conversations should actually happen on a case-to-case basis and each producer should figure it out himself,” said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films, referring to the fact that small-budget films that may not find huge draw in theatres could benefit from premiering faster online. Live Mint

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