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Movies debuting on OTT may become norm in lockdown 2.0

The latest round of Covid-related curbs resulting in cinemas being shut down in Tamil Nadu brought to an abrupt end the good show put out by Tamil film industry.

After a near washout of 2020 due to a stringent lockdown, Tamil cinema came back with the bang with the release of Vijay’s Master for Pongal in January 2021. The movie saw the biggest theatrical release post-lockdown, opening in around 900 screens in Tamil, Hindi and Telugu. According to trade estimates, Master grossed over ₹200 crore at the box office and pulled a decent number of audience back to theatres offering a ray of hope to film exhibitors across the country.

Besides Master, a slew of small, medium and big-budget theatrical releases including Silambarasan’s Eeswaran, Karthi’s Sulthan and most recently Dhanush’s Karnan, all did reasonably well at the box office despite cinemas being allowed to seat audience to just 50 per cent of capacity.

The State government’s decision to shut theatres from Monday has left the film industry completely demoralised. “Only God knows when the situation will normalise but our request to the government is to waive the minimum electricity charges, land tax and property tax till the situation improves,” said Tiruppur Subramanian, President, Tamil Nadu Multiplex and Theatre Owners Association.

“Over 50,000 people dependent on this industry have been rendered jobless,” he added. According to industry estimates 70-80 films in ready-to-release stage are impacted by the theatre shutdown. Film exhibitors also fear that many of these films may opt for direct digital platform due to financial challenges faced by the producers.

Digital releases
Last year, actor Suriya kick-started the direct-to-digital release trend by launching his film Soorarai Pottru in Amazon Prime, which was followed by OTT release of Nayanthara’s Mookuthi Amman and Jayam Ravi’s Bhoomi. Dhanush’s Jagame Thandiram, which was originally scheduled for May 1, 2020 theatrical release, will also now be released on Netflix.

Speculations are already rife that Sivakarthikeyan’s much-awaited film Doctor and Vijay Sethupathi’s Tughlaq Darbar may also skip theatrical release and debut on OTT platforms. But the film producers have not made any official announcements.

“After pandemic first wave, they thought theatres are done and #Master gave the best ever collection for us, #KongvsGodzilla did Fantastic, #Sulthan Super HIT Run, #Karnan Best ever Box Office ever for Dhanush. After seeing all the good, still opting for OTT release makes no sense(sic),” a tweet from Ram Muthuram Cinemas’ official Twitter handle read.

“Huge Family audience, already songs are a Blockbuster chart no’s #Doctor is a perfect Theatre material. It will definitely bring more revenue + OTT release after a month, combined revenue will be good for the producer. Still, that’s their wish means nothing can’t be done,” it added.

In its latest report on the Multiplex sector, ICICI Securities said, “A few Hindi movies were expected to be released in April (eg Sooryavanshi), but we think it will now be postponed. We now expect major releases only in H2FY22, hence the next two quarters may be a washout for multiplexes. This may also force a few producers to evaluate selling their movie rights to OTT players as the latter continue to invest aggressively (this could affect near-term content supply for multiplexes, but it would be a transient impact).” The Hindu BusinessLine

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