We all know how multiplexes and single-screen cinemas are eager to reopen, much like other businesses. They are waiting for the government to announce that cinemas can start business. However, there’s a basic difference between cinema and most other businesses. Cinemas have to wholly and completely depend upon third parties to get started. The business of exhibition of films cannot start without the films. And those films are supplied by producers and distributors. Multiplexes and single-screen cinemas are only the platform on which films are screened, they do not own the software which is needed to start operations.
So this: Even if cinemas are granted permission to reopen soon, what will they play to attract the public? Yes, multiplexes may take care of social distancing norms, sanitise their properties after every show, maintain the highest level of hygiene but what will they show to the people who come to the cinemas? Films, you are apt to say. Right? But the question is: where are the films? Impatient producers are busy signing deals with one or the other OTT platform to premiere their films because of the uncertainty surrounding the reopening date of cinemas and on the point whether the public will frequent cinemas in large numbers in view of the COVID-19 scare. Every film that’s finalised for premiering on an OTT platform implies loss of playing programme for one week, at least. Gulabo Sitabo will, in a manner of speaking, start a virtual trend of OTT premieres in Bollywood. Shakuntala Devi and Karan Johar’s Gunjan Saxena – The Kargil Girl have already been officially announced for premiere on Amazon Prime and Netflix respectively. Disney is scheduled to announce its slate of four films, co-produced by it, which will premiere on Disney+. Rumours are rife that T-Series has already signed the deal for four or five of its films with an OTT platform, and negotiations are on for a couple of more films. There are also talks of another film of Karan Johar making it to Netflix rather than the cinemas, and a couple of films of producer Dinesh Vijan taking the same route. If, in all, there are twelve films already committed or in the process of being committed to OTT platforms for premiere, it would mean loss of playing programmes for at least three months!
In other words, however hard the multiplexes may try to woo the public to return to cinemas by guaranteeing social distancing and hygiene measures, they will fail to woo them with promising films. The task before the cinemas is uphill. Frankly, they are fighting two battles: one with COVID-19 and the other with their own family members viz. producers and distributors. Like all other businesses will limp back to normalcy, one hopes cinema business too will sooner or later. But the problem which cinemas have to face due to the trend of OTT premieres of new films is typical to the exhibition trade. And here, even the government can’t help them.