April 17, 2020. This was the day when Gulabo Sitabo took the first bold stop to see an OTT premiere. It got quite some heat from the exhibition and distribution circle, just like it happens to most who take an early lead in something new. However, soon after the release of the Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana starrer, an OTT premiere became a norm. Well, at least for mid-budget releases. Shakuntala Devi, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, Dil Becahara, Ludo, Chhalang followed by biggies Laxmmi, Sadak 2 and Coolie No. 1 - It was a long list.
However, one year later, the scene is not the same. While 2020 was still busy with over 20 films skipping theatrical release to arrive straight on OTT, 2021 has been far more conservative in this regard. The only major OTT premier has been that of The Big Bull and that, too, was announced in 2020 itself. This week sees the release of Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai followed by Sardar Ka Grandson a few days later. Beyond that there is nothing finalised. The release of Toofan has been postponed and, for Bhuj: the Pride of India, it is yet to be announced.
That has only ended up making the situation quite gloomy for those who like to have their regular quota of Bollywood films at a regular frequency. Yes, there are quite a few web series that are coming in and that's good news as at least there is something to be enjoyed. However, Bollywood has its own charm and while one would have expected theatrical business to resume by now, the second wave has turned out to be a party spoiler, and that too with vengeance. Roohi released and turned into a decent success but Mumbai Saga and Saina went down.
There were hopes though that the release of Toofan would perk up things but then the makers have decided to push the film for a later day. From their point of view, it is understandable since they can't be expected to promote and market the film with the kind of fervor that a biggie like this deserves. That was not the case with Radhe since the digital release (in addition to select theatrical arrival) was announced when the situation wasn't as bad as currently. However, for newer arrivals, it may well be to wait and watch before an official announcement.
In the midst of this all, there was some hope of evening entertainment, courtesy the Indian Premier League (IPL. That was at least allowing the mind to get diverted and some sort of bad toxins to be released off the body. That is actually the need of the hour since along with physical health, one needs to take care of emotional and mental health as well. IPL is one tournament that does not require its stars (read: cricketers) to do any sort of pre-release publicity or marketing, and let their work (on the field) speak for itself. Unfortunately, even that dose of entertainment has gone away.
This makes one wonder how aam junta would find something to cheer about in the next few months to come. Even by wishful thinking, theaters can't be expected to be back in action before Independence Day. That is also by assuming that the second way would start sliding down in as dramatic a manner as it went up. In 2020, it took more than six months for theaters to partially open at 50 percent occupancy and one wonders whether it would take longer. On the other hand, the good part is that at least the SOPs are drafted now so that won't take time.This means that for all practical purposes, the best case scenario for things to actually get better for the Bollywood entertainment business would be Diwali. This is also the time by which vaccination drive would have been enhanced and a good chunk of population would have taken the jab.
The question though is, will filmmakers wait till then to bring their offerings to theaters? For the films that went on floors last year post lockdown, one can still expect that there is work left to be done, and hence releasing them would be far off the mind of the makers. However, how about the films that are ready? One can well assume that those attached to Sooryavanshi, '83, Satyameva Jayate 2, Shamshera, Shershaah, K.G.F - Chapter 2, Gangubai Kathiawadi and Bunty aur Babli 2, all of which are ready, could well be thinking about their next plan of action.It would still be too early to see whether these (and at least a couple of dozen more medium budget films) are yet thinking about an OTT release or instead choosing to wait for at least another six months to arrive. However, for an impatient audience out there which is waiting to catch a dekko of their stars in actions on the screen, be it big or small, there is a strong pinch being felt indeed.