The pandemic has changed what we consider ‘new normal’. It has disrupted life and the world had to make many adjustments. Some of those adjustments are temporary, and we will return to normal once the pandemic is over. But some changes are going to be long-lasting.
One of the biggest debates which continues is the cinema-and-OTT combination that has emerged since the outbreak of the pandemic. While many feel that the damage to the theatrical business in India will be irrevocable, there are others who have some compelling reasons to support that 2022 will be biggest year ever at the Indian box office.
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says that the business of Allu Arjun’s Pushpa: The Rise which released on December 17 is a testimony that theaters are not going anywhere. “The film released just a few days before the threat of Omicron variant of the coronavirus loomed large with the rising number of cases across the country. Theaters were shut in Delhi and NCR and despite that the film has managed to do a phenomenal business,” he says.
Adarsh adds that just the Hindi dubbed version of the Allu Arjun starrer has managed to gross Rs 100 crore at the box-office despite the film being released on OTT on January 14. “Despite night curfews, occupancy restrictions and lockdown in numerous states and the digitial release, the film has not managed to slow down at the box-office which shows that people are interested in going to theaters if you there is good content. I believe cinema is not going anywhere and no other meidum can threaten it’s existence,” he elaborates.
At the same time many films like Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey, director SS Rajamouli’s RRR, John Abraham’s Attack, which were scheduled to release, were postponed. Some even deciding to release their film on OTT.
Trade analyst Amod Mehra believes, “People would prefer consuming entertainment in the convenience and safety of their homes. It would be better for everybody to avoid crowding for some days looking at the rising cases.”
Mehra, however, is hopeful things will improve. “I believe there is still time to press the panic button,” he said. “The major releases including Alia Bhatt’s Gangubhai Kathiawadi, Akshay Kumar’s Bachchan Pandey have started announcing their release dates so it is not looking bad for the box office.”
The shadow of the pandemic continued in 2021, but unlike 2020, the industry coped better. While many big films, including Shershaah, Mimi, Bhuj: The Pride of India and Sardar Udham, released on OTT platforms, some also managed to hit the theatres, including Sooryavanshi, Mumbai Saga, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Bell Bottom, Antim: The Final Truth, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and 83.
This helped revive the exhibition sector, while also proving that there is a possibility of coexistence between OTT and theatre.
Superstar Ajay Devgn, who recently completed 30 years in the industry, will soon make his OTT debut with a web-series titled Rudra: The Edge of Darkness. Last year, when cinema halls were shut due to the second wave in the country, his film Bhuj: The Pride of India released directly on a digital platform.
The actor believes that both the mediums are going to co-exist, “There will be a good balance between both. It’s like having food. Seven days a week you can’t go have food outside, but after 4 days ghar pe toh khana banega hi phir aap restaurant kyu jaate ho, ya mangwate kyu ho.” Adding that even after having ‘home food’, people still indulge in outside food, the actor added, “Aap ne 3-4 din OTT pe dhekha phir once a week or twice a week you need to go out and have a big screen experience. It’s like that.”
There were about 40 OTT platforms in India in 2020, most of them in regional languages, according to another report by the National Association of Software and Service Companies. By 2023, the market size will be $5 billion, a Boston Consulting Group report predicts.
Actor Pratik Gandhi became a household name thanks to the runaway success of his show Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, which released on SonyLiv. He later made his Hindi film debut with Bhavai which released in cinemas in October 2021. The actor feels both the mediums have their own charm. “Though OTT gives the ease and comfort of watching world class content from all over at home that too on demand, there will be lot of stories that would need to be experienced on big screen and community viewing. I am seeing OTT as a new avenue and not as a threat to cinemas,” he says.
Pratik adds, “Cinemas, and even theatre, are going through the most tough time ever. But I am sure it’s a matter of time. They will bounce back and audience will be happily filling up all the seats. Like me I am sure people are waiting for that big screen or live stage experience.”
On the other hand, filmmaker Tigamnshu Dhulia, who is gearing up for the release of his first digital show The Great Indian Murder, feels that the footfall in cinema halls will decrease. “They two mediums will continue to co-exist but only big tickets films or tent pole films which has superstars like Salman Khan and other actors will have a great box-office run but the rest of content will be consumed on OTT,” he says.
At the same time, Dhulia is confident of cinemas bouncing back, “Once the Covid situation becomes better, cinemagoers will start watching films in theatres again. Cinemas will never go out of business but because of the advent of OTT, the business will surely be affected.”
India is the world’s fastest-growing market for streaming platforms, also known as over-the-top or OTT service providers, according to a recent report by PwC. With an annual growth rate of 28.6 percent, it is expected to become the sixth-largest market by 2024, ahead of South Korea, Germany, and Australia.
Actor Rana Daggubati feels that that the pandemic has been a huge learning experience and irrespective of the medium, films will continue to be made. “Pandemic has taught us that the amount of content we can consume has gone up by ten times. There will be specific cinemas or stories that you’ll watch on OTT and there will be specific experiences you’ll go to the theatre for.”
He adds, “Content will continue to exist, whether it’s in cinema halls or on OTT. Cinema halls will always be the place for spectacle story experiences. Now, the cinemas in south India have a better collection than they ever had.” News18