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Producers Selling Incomplete Films in Theaters to Meet OTT Deadlines and Profit from Loophole

The rise of the OTT market has resulted in a section of the producers becoming complacent, knowing that a certain chunk of money will come irrespective of what happens at the box office.

A lot is happening behind the scenes with regards to OTT deals between producers.

If you checked into a cinema hall recently and found that the movie you were watching was oddly incomplete, don’t get puzzled. You just happened to witness an open secret of the film industry, where producers are quietly dumping their films theatrically.

On October 29, trailer of Arjun Kapoor-Bhumi Pednekar starrer The Lady killer dropped on the internet. There were no drumrolls, the Instagram of the said actors remained oblivious to their big screen outing and the promotions didn’t exit. The film was playing in cinema halls five days later and many felt that the movie was released without even being complete.

Director Ajay Bahl initially confirmed that the film was released theatrically even when “30 pages of the 117 page screenplay were never shot” and a lot of crucial scenes were missing. He attributed this to why viewers might film feel the film was “choppy and disjointed”. Within 24-hours, however, the director retracted the statement and said his “humour and sarcasm” was misinterpreted, stating that The Lady killer was indeed a “complete film”.

Though the filmmaker backtracked from his earlier explanation, multiple industry sources confirmed to that multiple new releases in the past have found their way to the cinemas even when they were not fully ready, thanks to a lucrative OTT deal.

The OTT Contract
According to a trade source, some Hindi film producers today have blindly started to operate on “the lowest of risk” as a bulk of their money is pocketed through OTT, satellite and music rights. This has resulted in makers not caring about the ideal release date of their films. The rise of the OTT market has resulted in a section of the producers becoming complacent, knowing that a certain chunk of money will come irrespective of what happens at the box office.

“Today everyone is bound by an OTT contract, which means they have to deliver their film by a certain date. If they fail to do so, then the contract lapses and they have to find a new partner,” the source adds.

Bollywood films post the re-opening of cinema halls after the pandemic have been operating with an 8-week window for OTT— which means a Hindi film can only be available for streaming after it has completed 8 weeks of its theatrical release.

Which is why many films in the past saw a rushed theatrical release, to ensure that the OTT contract is honoured and doesn’t fall through. “There are many films which just release on a certain date, even if it is an incomplete product, just because if they delay the release date they will lose out on the OTT deal.”

The source claims last month’s big box office washout actioner was also a “rushed released” even when it was not fully ready. Hawkeyed users on Reddit were also quick to spot and call out the unfinished VFX of the film.

“The film in question was incomplete as well, but they had to release it on that Friday because as per the calculation of the 8-week window, any further delay in theatrical release would have meant the contract falling through,” the source claimed.

What happens if the OTT deal falls through?
Most of the films releasing this year are the ones which were conceptualised in 2021-22, when the OTT market was at its peak. According to an industry source, this was also the time when streaming platforms were buying “anything and everything.”

“Every film that is releasing this year are the ones that sold their OTT and satellite rights back in 2022,” another source adds. So, if one is under contract, the deal can’t be altered, but there is a loophole.

“If a film is delayed and the makers miss the date, then there is a catch. The OTT players are now wishing that some of these films do get delayed so that they can back out of the deal and save some money. If you miss the deadline of the original contract, you have to make a new one and once you do that, the amount will be fixed on the basis of the current market value. Which would obviously be lesser than what the range was in peak pandemic!”

OTT Pricing
There is no average price for an OTT to buy films, as it depends on several factors, including star cast and genre. According to the industry source, a tentpole film like Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan will be bought by Netflix at around Rs 150 cr, similar for his December release Dunki.

“On the digital front, the consumption of a Shah Rukh Khan film has always been the highest, even when he was not doing well theatrically, digitally his films did well. Now when he is back at his peak, his market value on the digital world is the highest for any actor by a huge margin.

“So his films fetch around Rs 150 cr on an average, a Tiger 3 starring Salman Khan would be around Rs 125 cr. OMG 2 had gone for Rs 80-90 cr digitally, because of the franchise value and again, it was ready in 2022 but sold in 2021, when the market was different, and the positioning of Akshay Kumar was also different,” the source adds.

While some producers managed to dump their films in theatres despite the films remaining unfinished, the case might not be the same going forward as even OTT players are seeing through the cracks. “The films which are starting now are finding it difficult to get the same amount from OTT and satellite players. This was bound to happen. It is about time now that a course correction happens and OTT players start paying basis the quality of the content,” the source adds. Indian Express

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