Direct-to-digital releases have ruffled feathers among producers and exhibitors across the country, consequently, INOX, one of the leading players in India's multiplex industry has come out strongly to express its 'extreme displeasure' over the shift in trend.
In a statement on May 14, multiplex operator INOX said, "The move by a production house to release their movie directly on OTT platform by skipping the theatrical window run and deviating 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 fillip to another’s revenue. This partnership has endured for decades, and has provided succour to each other,” INOX said in a statement.
The statement further said that, "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 producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners," the statement added.
In the concluding lines, the statement also mentioned that INOX will now be ‘constrained to examine’ its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in ‘dealing with such fair-weather friends’.
After INOX's statement, the Producers Guild of India also issued a statement on May 15 saying that this is the time when the entire film fraternity should come together with empathy and support.
"At a time like this, it is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging from some of our colleagues in the exhibition space," the statement said.
Producers Guild in their statement added, “Statements that call for ‘retributive measures’ against producers who decide to take their movies direct to OTT platforms — especially at a time when cinemas are unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future—do not lend themselves to a constructive or collaborative dialogue on the way forward for the industry.”
The statement also pointed out the crores of losses the production sector is facing on a daily basis.
The Producers' Guild listed some of the factors on why it has become important for some producers to take the OTT route, such as:
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 to be abruptly cancelled due to the lockdown, with huge cancellation charges being borne completely by the producer – again with no support from insurers.
Interest amounts 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. When cinemas open, we should be prepared for lower occupancies.
The Producers Guild of India concluded the statement saying that they are supportive of the theatrical release of films and that a theatrical release will always be the preference for movies that were conceptualised as cinematic experience.
The direct to digital release debate started when Suriya decided to take the digital route for his film Ponmagal Vandhal.However, the statement from INOX comes after the announcement of Gulabo Sitabo releasing on Amazon Prime. The film will premiere on the OTT platform from June 12.