Gulabo Sitabo : Prime Time But Not Lifetime

The controversy over the OTT premiere of Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer GULABO SITABO directly on Amazon Prime Video has reached new heights

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The controversy over the OTT premiere of Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer GULABO SITABO directly on Amazon Prime Video has reached new heights.

With multiplex chains like PVR, Inox expressing their displeasure and issuing statements warning of retributive measures.

The Producers Guild of India has just issued a statement in interest of the producers and the industry by large.

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Certainly the concerns of the producers, distributors, exhibitors are understandable depending on where you stand and where your interest lies.

But here am talking about the ‘bigger’ picture – the audience, the junta, the consumer, the user, the customer, yes of course the producer, distributor and the exhibitor in due course. Whose movie/benefit is it in anyway and who will have the last laugh.

The corona pandemic has taken its toll on the world, economy and the entertainment industry is severely affected.

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Entertainment, leisure is not the prime priority so the opening of cinema halls, malls etc doesn’t seem to be happening in near future. Let the schools reopen first, let there be some medicine, an assurance of the remedy if someone is infected by the virus when things start getting back to normal.

According to a statement released by The Producers Guild of India, “The production sector (just like the exhibition sector) is suffering hundreds of crores of losses on a daily basis –

“- Elaborate and expensive sets erected for under-production films have had to be taken down due to no date in sight for shoots to resume, with the sunk cost of the set and studio rentals to be borne completely by producers – as insurers refuse to cover the cost. Shoot schedules have had to be abruptly cancelled due to the lockdown, with huge cancellation charges being borne completely by the producer – again with no support from insurers.”

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“- Interest costs are mounting on amounts raised to fund films, with producers having to bear this additional burden with no date in sight for cinemas to re-open; in fact with the knowledge that cinemas may be one of the last sectors of the service sector likely to be given permission to re-open.”

“- Re-opening of cinemas is bound to be staggered across the country, with each State government rightly making its own decision on the appropriate time to re-open cinemas in their State, depending on the intensity of the outbreak there. Producers of Hindi movies will have to wait for cinemas across the entire country to re-open, as the economics of the business require an All India release. For cinemas to be open across the entire country, it is clear we are sometime away”.

“- Even when cinemas re-open across India, there is no guarantee that the Overseas theatrical market (which is a key component of the economics of Hindi films) will have resumed. Even if it has in some countries, it might not have in others, hence leading to additional loss of revenue for a producer”.

“- When cinemas re-open, we should be prepared for lower occupancies. One, because of the social distancing norms that will be both mandated and necessary for public safety. Secondly, because of the inevitable concern that cinema-goers will have about venturing back into public spaces.”

“- In addition to this, there will be a huge backlog of releases, and the smaller and medium scale films especially will suffer from sub-optimal showcasing in addition to all the concerns above.”

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 empathises with the predicament of the other, rather than adopting an adversarial stance which is counter-productive for the entire value chain.”

Further , the statement says that “The Producers Guild would like to emphasise that we are unequivocally and passionately supportive of the theatrical release of films, and a theatrical release will always be the preference for movies that were conceptualised as cinematic experiences”
This has come after the theatre owners have expressed their displeasure over the direct OTT premiere of the Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer GULABO SITABO on Prime Video.

Written by Juhi Chaturvedi and directed by Shoojit Sircar, GULABO SITABO – earlier was scheduled to release on 17 April, making it the first major Bollywood film during the Corona Covid 19 pandemic to skip the routine theatrical release route and make a direct OTT entry.

According to the exhibitors, there is uncertainty on the next phase of countdown. As said earlier, people at least the understanding ones in metropolitan cities and towns won’t flock theatres immediately. A strategy needs to be planned. Before that the producers should co operate and stand by the distributors/exhibitors.

Fair enough, but reliable sources from the market have informed this author that a strategic planning of running the theaters for three or four days a week with occupancy limited to max 50% whenever it opens was not acceptable to the makers of SOORYAVANSHI directed by Rohit Shetty. Starring Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh and Katrina Kaif.

SOORYAVANSHI is made under the banner of Reliance Entertainment, Rohit Shetty Picturez, Dharma Productions and Cape of Good Films. The movie is distributed by Reliance Entertainment and PVR Pictures.

The makers of SOORYAVANSHI can afford to wait for a year but that may not be the case of Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar produced GULABO SITABO which is not backed by a major studio.

Without getting into the nitty – gritty of the history of ugly unethical arm twisting tactics by both producers and distributors depending upon the ‘product’ made by the filmmaker matlab producer, let’s finally talk about the audience, the end user, the customer.

What difference does it makes for a common audience whether GULABO SITABO is on OTT, TV, theatre, mobile screen or any screen. Yes, the theatre experience is unbeatable so is the cost of pop corn in multiplexes which is unaffordable or say unreasonably high.

On top of that, god forbids – the piracy will make it free to the audience, the end user, the customer.

Unfortunately the GULABO SITABO direct premiere on OTT controversy is narrowing down to the prevailing insecurity, a human crisis which is much bigger and dangerous than the Corona Covid pandemic.

The producer, the distributor both are scared about their survival like the daily wage earners, the ‘migrants’ who has left the big city and fled to their village.

So how many from the 125+ crore Indian population visit theatres. 20%, 30%, 10%.. the reality, the eye opener was revealed by P.V. Sunil, director and CEO of Carnival Cinemas in 2015. According to him only two percent of the Indian population saw the 300 crore blockbuster BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN in theatres.

Once things get back to normalcy, people will relish their favourite batata vada or tandooori chicken in that matter from their favourite joint. We all have to apply patience and tolerance.

In my opinion the case of GULABO SITABO should be taken as an individual one with a broad minded perspective. This may motivate medium, low budget movies to opt for direct digital premiere, the out of the box content will benefit more from this digital revolution. It may seen to be a ‘prime’ timed movie but it’s certainly not a lifetime solution in any case.

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