As theatres reopen, Bollywood gears up for its big comeback

With the Indian film exhibition industry losing revenues close to 120 billion rupees in 2020-21 due to the pandemic — the opening up of theatres in Maharashtra and rest of the country along with upcoming big Bollywood releases give hope for better times ahead 

 

When the news of theatres opening up since October 22 in Maharashtra came out, the Indian film industry breathed a sigh of relief. Within hours, big Hindi film releases were announced and the Mumbai film fraternity thanked CM Thackeray for the move.

Mumbai is the leading market for Hindi film industry, that is Bollywood, and churns out 30-35% of film’s revenue. Since April this year, when India was caught in the grip of a sinister second wave, cinema halls in the state were shut. This step, though inevitable, came as a huge blow to the film industry. After months of being dormant, during the first wave in 2020, this year was looked at as the year of redemption of sorts – but the first half of the year had other plans it seems.

But now, things are looking up. Big budget films like Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi or Ranveer Singh starrer 83, among many others, were waiting for this exact moment with baited breath. Yet, not all is well. There is a sense of apprehension amid the film fraternity – because the way cine goers consume cinema has changed drastically this past year. Courtesy: OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Zee5, SonyLIV, Hulu and so on. 

Thus, the question of Bollywood’s future is a matter of concern, even when theatres are gearing up for the year’s biggest releases. 

Theatre VS OTT

Due to the pandemic, a host of films opted for OTT premieres. Some of the biggest Bollywood films in the last two months to join the bandwagon are Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham (October 16; Amazon Prime Video), Dharma Production’s Shershaah starring Siddharth Malhotra and Kiara Advani(August 12, Amazon Prime Video), Tapsee Pannu’s Rashmi Rocket(October 15, Zee5), among others. Before this too, films like Sherni, Haseen Dilruba, Ray and many others premiered on OTT because either halls were closed or even if functional, had little to no footfall. Thus, be it a new series – for which these platforms are primarily known – and now brand new movies, they serve a complete package to the audience. Thereby, diminishing the need to want to go to a theatre and watch a movie.

Sardar Udham (top) & Shershaah, both of these recent big-budget films opted for OTT premieres

This major shift from theatres to OTT has impacted consumers’ viewing patterns as a result, which makes us wonder whether this a temporary phase or the future of Indian, particularly Bollywood, cinema?

“The answer to that question lies in the success of global blockbusters like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, A Quiet Place: Part II, Jungle Cruise which have raked in big money in recent times. I just read that for No Time to Die, the latest James Bond outing, more than 30,000 people attended midnight screenings in the UK and Ireland in one night. The film sold a mind-blowing 1.62 million advance tickets for the opening and took in between £4.5m-£5m on its first day in UK and Irish cinemas. We can only imagine the global earnings of the film in the weeks to come. As far as India is concerned,  theatres are just beginning to open up so it is important to give the business time to bounce back to pre-pandemic proportions but as long as makers want to showcase their films on the big screen and people want to watch them, the passion for larger-than-life entertainment will not wane,” says film producer Anand Pandit, who waited for the right moment for his film, Amitabh Bachchan, Emraan Hashmi starrer Chehre to get a theatrical release before it gets to any OTT platform. 

Film producer Anand Pandit (right) with Amitabh Bachchan during the shoot of ‘Chehre’

Like Chehre, many Bollywood films – like Akshay Kumar starrer Bell Bottom, Kangana Ranaut starrer Thalaivii, Salman Khan starrer Radhe, Rajkummar Rao & Jahnvi Kapoor starrer Roohi etc. opted for this model. They released their films in the theatres first, before dropping it to any of the platforms – just like it used to be in the pre-pandemic world.

But the long-term impact of the pandemic for the entertainment industry is far and beyond. According to a report by Ernst & Young made in 2020, India had 9,527 screens – of which, 6,327 single screens and 3,200 multiplexes. And owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, last year, around 1,000 screens had to shut down permanently.

However, things are changing — for good. After the announcement of cinema halls reopening in Maharashtra came out, the shares of multiplex operators PVR and Inox Leisure zoomed up to 18% on September 27 – a new 52-week highs to Rs 1662.2 and Rs 412.2 per share respectively on the BSE intraday trade. 

“I think the phase of big-ticket films having a direct to digital release is going to slow down now. Ever since the news of re-opening of multiplexes in Maharashtra trickled in, spate of films has announced their respective release dates as producers across the country stated their intent to release their films on the big screen. In fact during the period of Christmas 2021 and Republic Day 2022 , around 6 big-ticket films have lined up for release in theatres which is an encouraging sign for the industry,” says Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President – Films, Saregama India. 

Siddharth Anand Kumar

Kumar’s upcoming film Zombivli, which is Marathi cinema’s first zombie horror comedy, was supposed to release earlier this year. However, it had to be postponed due to the second wave of the pandemic. 

“We are excited to finally be able to bring Zombivli to the people in theatres. Films like Zombivli which are specifically made for the big screen experience would want to release in cinemas before eventually landing up on an OTT platform. That’s not to say that there won’t be films specifically made for OTT platforms. What we have learnt and seen during the last two years is that there is a tremendous appetite for all kinds of cinema from all across. The world and content creators are astute enough to gauge what film would ideally work on what platform. There are economics and commerce factors that have to be weighed in for each film release. The cinema consumption world has changed and I feel the big screen and the OTT screens will both find their way,” affirms Kumar. 

Pandit seconds his view. He adds, “I don’t see the rise in OTT consumption as a threat to the industry. In fact, this is another way for us to engage with the audience and tell stories that need a more intimate and unusual format. The two can and will co-exist.”

Bollywood bounces back

India is the largest film-making nation in the world. The Hindi film employs thousands of people. Now, after a year and a half since the pandemic – Bollywood has a lot to recover from, and a lot to redeem. 

“Well, the impact of the pandemic has been devastating because we had to put on hold, theatrical releases, location specific shoots that could not be carried out due to travel restrictions and suffer through the closure of thousands of theatres and the job losses suffered by daily wage workers. As an industry though we are resilient and we are bouncing back. We are adapting to the pandemic by shooting in bio bubbles and big-ticket films including my film Chehre are beginning to trickle into theatres. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a full recovery for us, economically speaking. The film exhibition industry has lost revenues of close to 120 billion rupees in 2020-21 and I hope better times are ahead for us all with theatres finally opening in Maharashtra and the rest of the country,” believes Pandit.

Credit: Getty Images

Such huge losses had impacted the livelihood of those associated with the film industry. Over 2,50,000 workers, including entertainers, makeup artists, set designers, carpenters and backstage dancers have faced the consequences of the pandemic, reveals data by the Federation of Western India Cine Employees. 

Now, with Covid numbers going down and restrictions easing up – film productions and releases have gone up. Thereby, bringing back the much-awaited normalcy. 

Kumar also believes so. “I envisage the Indian film industry to emerge as one of the biggest job providers going forward. It is important to remember that 2019 was a record year for the Indian Film Industry with gross box office receipts crossing the ₹10,000 crore mark for the first time (Ormax Media) which further highlighted the industry’s popularity amongst the masses. A pandemic and OTT boom later, there’s an exponential rise in demand for entertainment cutting across languages in all its forms – films, web series and now short episodic, something which Hotstar and Amazon are experimenting with,” he states. 

A BTS from a film shoot // Credit: StudioTalk

“As we make the long road back to normalcy, entertainment will continue to be the preferred choice of refuge for the masses. Production Houses will now have their hands full as the demand for entertainment has never been higher,” concludes Kumar. 

It’s Housefull!

Here are some of the biggest upcoming theatrical releases of 2021-22, that are all set to premiere at the theatres:

Gangubai Kathiawadi (top) & Sooryavanshi is all set to hit the theatres
  • Sooryavanshi – This big-budget action drama, directed by Rohit Shetty and starring Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Katrina Kaif, among others has booked November 5, the auspicious day of Diwali for its release. 
  • Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui – The Ayushmann Khurrana starrer is hitting the theatres on December 10.  
  • 83: The much-awaited sports drama on India’s 1983 cricket world cup win, which will have Ranveer Singh portraying Kapil Dev, is set to release on Christmas Eve, December 24.
  • Jersey: Shahid Kapoor starrer sports drama releases on New Year’s Eve, that is December 31. 
  • Gangubai Kathiawadi – Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama, starring Alia Bhatt, gears up to premiere on January 6, 2022. 
  • Laal Singh Chaddha – This much-anticipated Aamir Khan starrer film, which is said to be the remake of the Hollywood classic Forrest Gump, releases on February 14, 2022. 

(Other big releases:

2021: Bunty Aur Babli 2 – November 19; No Mean No – November 5; Satyameva Jayate 2 – November 26; Tadap – December 3; Pushpa Part 1 – December 24.

2022: Radhe Shyam – January 14; Prithviraj – January 21; Jayeshbhai Jordar – February 25; Bachchan Pandey – March 4; Shamshera – March 18; Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 – March 25; KGF 2 – April 14; May Day – April 29; Heropanti 2 – May 6; Raksha Bandhan – August 11; Adipurush — August 11; Vikram Vedha remake – September 30; Ram Setu – October 25; Ganapath – December 23)

 

(Cover: An artist wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus paints a wall mural of Bollywood actress Asha Parekh on a residential building at Bandra, on May 16, 2021 in Mumbai // Credit: Getty Images)

 

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