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Mid-scale films struggle as audience flock cinemas for large spectacles

Despite the failure of recent titles like Anek, Jayeshbhai Jordaar, Attack and Shabaash Mithu, all made at modest budgets, a number of mid-sized films are trying their luck in cinema theatres. Trade experts said all eyes are focused on the mystery thriller Ek Villain Returns releasing this weekend and Taapsee Pannu-starrer Do Baaraa scheduled for mid-August as the success of smaller films is critical both for actors to be accepted as stars as well as the exhibition sector as they keep the content pipe flowing for theatres.

However, ever since theatres have re-opened after the pandemic, audiences have been flocking to cinemas only for large spectacles.

Actors like Fahadh Faasil, Tovino Thomas and Rajkummar Rao, each with a slate of films releasing directly on streaming platforms during the lockdown and some garnering critical acclaim, are now releasing their upcoming films in theatres. Faasil’s latest film Malayankunju released in cinemas last week while Rao’s HIT: The First Case had come out the week before that.

“A lot of actors and filmmakers have realised box office is critical for the film to generate enough chatter in the first place. You can always recover investment through an OTT release but audience validation beyond social media, which is a small world anyway, is important,” film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said. Theatrical releases are important to actors as even if the film doesn’t fare well at the box office, they win audience love and appreciation while response to web releases is not as easy to gauge.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said even though cinemas are not happy about anything other than hardcore commercial entertainers releasing at the moment and some even consider it a waste of time, all actors, especially in south India, are aware that stardom can only be sustained through theatrical releases. “Too many direct-to-OTT releases can also bring their theatrical standing down,” Pillai said.

This March, Tamil star Suriya, who had films like Soorarai Pottru and Jai Bhim premiere directly on OTT and appeared in Netflix original Navarasa, released medium-budget action thriller Etharkkum Thunindhavan in cinemas. After Netflix hit Minnal Murali, Malayalam star Tovino Thomas’s Naaradan and Vaashi too have released in cinemas, to mixed word-of-mouth.

The other advantage with a theatrical release for mid-scale films is that OTT platforms can cash in on the buzz already generated for quick digital premieres without having to start from scratch.

“The platforms don’t have to further invest in publicity and marketing and the producer can then milk all revenue streams adequately,” Johar said pointing out that some mid-sized southern films have already managed to woo crowds to theatres.

Malayalam action drama Kaduva had minted over ₹40 crore worldwide at last count while Kannada comedy drama 777 Charlie has gone past the ₹100 crore mark globally.

“The wait is for the Hindi movie industry to find its balance,” Johar added. Live Mint

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