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Token releases hit cinemas as OTT mandate kicks in

NEW DELHI : Over the past few weeks, cinemas have been flooded with small-budget films that come with minimal marketing or audience anticipation, resulting in negligible box office returns. Titles such as Aankh Micholi, UT 69, Shastry Viruddh Shastry and Three of Us have made their way to theatres with audiences largely uninformed about their release.

Additionally, The Lady Killer, a T-Series production, reportedly hit screens in an incomplete state after exceeding its budget. Trade experts highlight a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of producers regarding audience preferences, emphasizing that these projects were initially intended for direct streaming on over-the-top (OTT) platforms but have been redirected to theatres, after streaming services’ mandate for a theatrical release.

“It is clear that a lot of producers green-lit projects banking on the surge that OTT consumption had seen during the pandemic and the fact that platforms were aggressively buying films for direct-to-digital release. That enthusiasm has clearly died down and the movies have nowhere to go. A theatrical release that is now mandated by streaming services, however, is creating no buzz and is in fact, disrespectful to the product in question,” said the head of a leading film studio, on the condition of anonymity.

The person added that even OTT platforms are at a disadvantage when acquiring these films, often as part of a bulk deal, because these are unlikely to grab any eyeballs even online given their miserable turn in theatres.

To be sure, several trade experts point out that producers are being smart about limiting screen count and not investing in marketing or publicity to push a film that they do not see hope for in cinemas. However, many of these films, produced on shoestring budgets, could make anywhere between 10 crore- 12 crore from satellite and digital sales. “Technically, a theatrical release does not have to mean going to 500 cinemas. That said, there is a gap between what studios are commissioning and what the audience wants to pay for and watch,” said Yusuf Shaikh, business head, feature films at production and distribution company Percept Pictures.

Film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar agreed that the film in question has to at least be watchable, regardless of platform. “Releasing in cinemas in this manner defeats the entire purpose because there is zero buzz around the film,” he said.

To be sure, there can be exceptions to the trend. Shaikh pointed out that Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 12th Fail that is nearing the 30-crore mark at the box office, is a recent example of a small-budget film that didn’t just resonate with audiences but consistently made the right noise through marketing and communication.

Other industry experts agree the right publicity push can help if the word-of-mouth around a small-scale film is positive and the genre is not necessarily dead. Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, executive director at PVR Inox Ltd, pointed out that while male-centric action spectacles such as Jawan and Pathaan have set the cash registers ringing, a variety of genres have also found favour at the box office following the pandemic. “Films such as Dream Girl 2 or Zara Hat Ke Zara Bach Ke, may not have broken records but have done well,” he said.

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Updated: 17 Nov 2023, 12:16 AM IST

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