Theatres or OTT – What’s the new forward?

Will theatres rise like a phoenix from the ashes and make a roaring comeback post the second wave or will OTT platforms and digital premieres emerge as the new forward for the film industry? Kavya Pillai seeks to find some answers to this question that has been rankling in the minds of moviegoers for sometime now.

It’s been a bleak last year for theatre owners both multiplex and single screen. Ever since cinema halls downed their shutters sometime in March last year, there has only been a brief period of restricted theatre viewing experience after reopening and that too at 50% occupancy as a precautionary measure before the hit of the second wave. Currently theatres in many states including Maharashtra remain firmly shut. With no option left and not wanting their film to be left in a lurch, many filmmakers have been opting for digital release of their films. Even A list stars like Akshay Kumar and Varun Dhawan preferred to release their films – Laxmii and Coolie No 1 on OTT platforms. This brings us to the larger question – Will theatres be frequented as they once used to be post the second wave or will OTT continue to find takers and subscribers?

“OTT platforms can never replace the magic of watching a film in the theatre. This a just a temporary alternative. I will prefer watching movies in theatre than on OTT. Also, India comprises of a large number of mass audience who love watching massy commercial entertainers and light hearted movies or multi starrer in theatre,” opines Komal, Senior Journalist.  

While hope still exists for theatres, the ground reality continues to be grim. But theatre owners haven’t thrown in their towels yet despite facing some stiff competition from OTT platforms. “Yes, this is a grim situation.  Everything is shut but if you see a lot of these single screen theatre owners are out there fighting back and they are hopeful that some day theatres will open. There are many who are saying this pandemic will be like a five year thing or three year thing but I am sure whenever things normalise theatres will be back as it was earlier,” emphasizes Uma, Senior Journalist.

What has however made things daunting for theatres is the lack of interest among general audience in returning to theatres especially to view Hindi films. While south films – Master, Krack made a killing at the boxoffice when it released earlier this year, Hindi films like Roohi and Mumbai Saga sank without much trace. One wonders if it was the fear of the Corona virus or absence of superstars that kept Hindi viewers at bay as compared to their southern counterparts. “Stars can give you an opening. But later on it is the content that can help hold the film in good stead. You can’t expect a Janhavi Kapoor and Rajkumar Rao film to have a superstar like opening. But ultimately it was the story of the film that did it in. Roohi’s story wasn’t good enough,” says Supriya, Senior Journalist.

While Roohi’s script may not have been up to the mark, one can’t discount the fact that south films did well owing to 100 percent theatre occupancy being allowed in certain states and big star films being released on festival days. “Unfortunately with Roohi the timing went wrong. As far as South films go, theatres received  100 percent occupancy and Master released during a festival.  Also, people down south worship their stars unlike here in Hindi cinema. So down south if a star like Vijay releases his film, no matter what people will still go and watch.”

Despite the not so rosy scenario currently, all three journalists agree unanimously that theatres and OTTS will co-exist. They are positive that when things return to normal, OTTs will continue to serve as a platform for small films that seldom find a good release window in theatres. “Ott is beneficial for small films that don’t get a good release. It is a good option for lot of small film makers,” says Supriya while Uma adds, “Small films will do well releasing directly on OTT because they will not have to fight for screenspace. More people will watch it on OTT.”

And who will rule the roost in theatres? “Big stars will be watched by people on big screens,” assures Komal. One of the first big films to have been affected by the closure of cinema halls last year was Sooryavanshi which is still awaiting its theatrical release. “Sooryanshi is a high octane action film and it genuinely deserves a big screen experience,” says Uma.

Suffice to say, when the going gets tough the tough gets going – Theatres will have to grow tougher to survive this second wave. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? And as far as we viewers are concerned, it is simply a question of asking ourselves – Where we will want to be next time when Vicky Kaushal in character delivers “How’s the josh” – At Home or in a packed theatre answering?