Several filmmakers are now turning to OTT platforms for releasing their films, given the uncertainty around theatres reopening due to the pandemic.

Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushman Khurrana on Golabo Sitabo film poster
Flix Cinema Friday, May 15, 2020 - 11:41

A war of words has unfolded between INOX, a chain of theatres across India, and the Producers Guild of India over many makers choosing to skip theatrical release and premiering their films on OTT platforms.

Indirectly referring to the makers of Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo announcing the film’s release on Amazon Prime Video on June 12, INOX issued a statement where it expressed “extreme displeasure and disappointment” over the decision. Without naming the film or the production house, INOX called this decision “alarming and disconcerting,” and said that it reserved the right to even take “retributive measures” against “fair-weather friends”.

However, the Producers Guild of India responded on Friday, saying that they had to go in for OTT releases because they had no choice as they were incurring hundreds of crores of rupees in losses due to closing down of elaborate sets and no clarity on when theatres could reopen, in light of the pandemic. Not referring to INOX directly, the Guild said that it was disappointed to see “abrasive and unconstructive messaging” from some of their colleagues in the exhibition sector. Referring to INOX’s “retributive measures” threat, the Guild said that this did not lend to “constructive or collaborative dialogue forward in the industry”.

INOX's statement

“INOX would like to express extreme displeasure and disappointment on an announcement made by a production house today, to release their movie directly on an OTT platform by skipping the theatrical window run. The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting.

Cinemas and content creators have always been into mutually beneficial partnerships, where one's action provided file to another's revenues. INOX has been investing profoundly towards adding world class quality screens, across the country, only to provide more eyeballs to the great content being produced. This partnership has endured for decades and has provided succour to each other. In these troubled times, it is disturbing to see one of the partners not interested in continuing the mutually beneficial relationship especially when the need of the hour is to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, and bring the film industry back to its vibrant best.

Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producer as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather lifelong partners. Needless to say, INOX will be constrained to examine options, and reserves all rights including taking retributive measures in dealing with such fair weather friends. 

INOX would like to reiterate that as the backbone of the cinematic value chain this windowing pattern has done wonders in terms of revenues for the content creators and all other stakeholders, as it offers them the opportunity to extract the best from all available mediums which include cinemas OTT platforms as well as satellite.

INOX would to urge all content creators not to skip the theatrical run, and stay with the age old and established windowing pattern which is the best interest of all stakeholders in the value chain.”

What the Producers Guild said

The Guild elaborated that losses were being incurred from the shutting down of elaborate sets, due to sunk costs of studio rentals, cancelled shoot schedules, mounting interest costs and so on. All of these costs are being borne by producers with no help from insurers.

They also pointed out that cinemas could be the last in the service sector to be given the permission to reopen, and it is bound to be staggered reopening across the country whenever it does happen. Further, there is no guarantee of the overseas theatrical marker anymore and when it will resume, leading to more losses. There also likely to be a huge backlog of releases, due to which small and medium scale films will suffer from sub-optimal showcasing in theatres.

That being said, producers said that they would still prefer theatrical release of films, if not for the unprecedented situation. “Given this combination of factors, it is only natural that producers who have already invested heavily in their films with theatrical revenue assumptions that are no longer feasible, will seek out all avenues available to recover their investment and to stay in business. At a time like this, it is important that each stakeholder understands and empathize with the predicament of the other, rather than adopting an adversarial stance which is counter-productive for the entire value chain,” the statement said.

Read the full statement here:

Other films also opting for OTT release

Gulabo Sitabo is not the only film that is going for an OTT release directly. Amazon Prime on Friday announced that six other films – two in Kannada, one in Tamil, one in Malayalam, one in Hindi, and one bilingual in Tamil and Telugu – will be released directly on its platform. This includes the much anticipated Shankuntala Devi  starring Vidya Balan, and Keerthy Suresh’s Penguin.

Earlier, a similar controversy had happened around Ponmagal Vanthal, the impending OTT release of which was condemned by the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association. It was supposed to hit the screens on March 27, but due to the pandemic situation, that could not happen.  

“The rule is that movies that have been produced for theatres must be released on streaming platforms only after they are first released in movie theatres. This producer has flouted this rule and has given his movie to an OTT platform. We condemn it strongly. We contacted the producer and told him not to do this, but he didn’t listen to us. Hence we have told him to release all the movies his company produces and all the movies related to him, directly on OTT platforms. It is our collective stand that we don’t need those movies,” Panneerselvam, General Secretary of Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association, had said.

Read: 'Penguin', 'Law' and other south films to have direct OTT release: Here are the dates