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COVID lockdown further fuels OTT vs silver screen debate

Since last week, speculations are rife over the release of actor Akshay Kumar’s upcoming movie Laxxmi Bomb. The horror comedy, based on the 2011 Tamil blockbuster Kanchana, is speculated to premier on OTT platforms instead of theatrical release due to the shutdown. While there is no official word yet from the filmmakers or the actor, the news has already ruffled some feathers.

For instance, Vishek Chauhan, a Bihar-based exhibitor, tweeted: “My request to @akshaykumar to support theatres and not release #LaxmiBomb directly on #OTT,”

“You releasing your film directly on OTT, will justify the medium and make theatres irrelevant,” Chahuhan wrote in an open letter to the actor, adding: “It will trigger consumer behaviour changes justifying digital as the main medium of film consumption.”

‘Producers’ right’
Already, the issue of OTT premiers has left the producers and film exhibitors in India’s second biggest film industry — Kollywood — clearly divided. Last week, more than 30 Tamil film producers issued a joint statement supporting the release of small and medium budget films directly on the OTT platforms.

The producers’ statement came in the wake of a warning issued by Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Association general secretary Panneerselvam to actor Suriya, for his decision to release actor-wife Jyothika’s upcoming movie ‘Pon Magal Vandhal on the OTT platforms, bypassing the theatrical release.

Panneerselvam warned that none of Suriya’s future films will be screened in theatres if the actor goes ahead with his decision. Pon Magal Vandhal, bankrolled by Suriya’s production house 2D Entertainment, was scheduled for release on March 26 but had to be postponed due to theatrical shutdown. The movie will now premier on Amazon Prime on May 1.

“A film producer who has invested his money, has all the rights to exploit his film in every possible way by selling the rights available for his film, to recover his investment so that he or she can continue in the film business,” the joint letter by the producers read.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant shutdown has dealt a severe blow to the Indian film industry. From shooting cancellations to postponement of news releases, the pandemic has put hundreds of crores of business at stake besides rendering tens of thousands industry workers, mostly daily-wage earners, indefinitely jobless.

Films like Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, Vijay’s Master, Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru and Dhanush’s Jagame Thandhiram, as well as dozens of other small and medium budget movies scheduled for release in April and May, have pushed their release dates indefinitely.

‘No affect in revenue’
Producer and Distributor G Dhananjayan says film exhibitors need not worry about small budget films reaching out to OTT platforms, as it will not affect their revenue in any way.

“Over 50 films are currently in the pipeline for release. An OTT release will at least reduce the queue,” Dhananjayan said adding, “else, when things normalise, there will be a scenario where 10 movies have to be released (together) and it will affect revenue of all the 10 films.” Dhananjayan said.

“Let movies be made & released exclusively for #OTT. The same way, the theatre releases also stand exclusive,” Rakesh Gowthaman, MD, Vettri Theatres tweeted during the height of the controversy last week.

“The creator / producer of the content should make that choice before hand & market it so there is no confusion for anyone,” he added.

Lockdown effect
OTT consumption in India is on an upward curve in the last three years.

In recent report titled COVID-19: The Many Shades Of A Crisis- A Media And Entertainment Sector Perspective, KPMG said that TV, gaming, digital and OTT platforms are seeing consumption growth due to the lockdown while outdoor consumption models such as films, events, and theme parks are witnessing a dramatic fall with social distancing norms in place.

“Digital media consumption, particularly OTT, has seen a surge during the lockdown period in terms of both time spent and newer audiences. The resultant habit formation is likely to result in a new higher normal once the situation around COVID-19 comes under control,” the report read. The Hindu Business Line

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