The Gulabo Sitabo controversy has led to plenty of divided opinions. Let’s cut through the clutter and see who’s right.
The Producer’s Guild has slammed INOX for criticising OTT film releases in a statement, without directly naming them. “It is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging from some of our colleagues in the exhibition sector. Statements that call for “retributive measures” against producers who decide to take their movies direct to OTT platforms – especially at a time when cinemas as unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future – do not lend themselves to a constructive or collaborative dialogue on the way forward for the industry,” read an official statement by the Producer’s Guild of India. This statement was in response to INOX’s statement yesterday, where they expressed displeasure that Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo toplined by Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana will release on Amazon Prime first.
This is clearly going to be the trend considering the uncertainty around how long the coronavirus will impact the film industry. In fact, a few days ago, there was a buzz that the Akshay Kumar-led Laxmmi Bomb will debut on Disney+ Hotstar. It is also a known fact that Zee’s Gunjan Saxena (Janhvi Kapoor) and Khaali Peeli (Ishaan Khatter, Ananya Pandey) are also on the negotiation table with various streaming platforms, with some even saying that Gunjan Saxena has almost finalised the deal with Netflix.
Theatre owners ought to realise that this is the current reality. Producers and actors who are selling the broadcast rights in the current Covid-19 landscape are only being practical. There is no date in sight as to when theatres will reopen. Will it be three months? Six months? No one knows. Even when that happens, how soon will the common man muster up the confidence to go to a place like the cinema? Will theatres have to be redesigned to maintain social distancing once they do open, considering that the coronavirus vaccine is easily more than a year away? The current system of hundreds of people densely packed together is not going to work. If so, the footfalls are going to be significantly lower anyway.
Some movies are made with the big screen experience in mind, but there are others, where story trumps scale, and where a long delay can make a film look stale. Hence, why not release the film on a streaming platform if you are getting a price that helps you earn your profits, and more importantly, allows the audience, to enjoy the movie?
The statement by INOX is childish. Why compel a filmmaker to stay put? How long can one wait, especially considering the vast amount of money at stake? Is there a guarantee that the world will not have a second outbreak of the virus? Or that there won’t be another series of lockdowns? Sanjay Gupta made a very sensible statement on his Twitter on similar lines. He wrote, “A film is ready for release funded by the producer himself. He doesn’t have deep pockets like the studios. With absolutely no clarity on theatrical release, he is left with no choice but to go straight to digital. It’s an exception and not the new norm.”
Today, Kunal Kohli slammed INOX, saying, “Let Inox release what % of their revenue is Ticket Sales vs F&B. F&B is based on ticket sales, no one goes to a theatre to eat, Right? Start sharing that revenue with producers as well, before accusing them of trying to survive in a world pandemic never witnessed before by mankind.”
One understands that the cinema hall industry has come to a standstill (as have so many others). But the theatre owners’ apprehension that Gulabo Sitabo will set a precedent for filmmakers preferring to release on digital first, is unfounded. It has no legs. While the virus is around, sure, the few movies that are ready may prefer to see a digital release. But once the curve has truly flattened, the power of cinema will bring people back. There are several filmmakers who believe in the experience of the big screen and make movies to create that magic.
Cinema owners need to stop ranting. If your shop is not open, how can I shop from it? These are unprecedented times and everyone has to adapt. That the product should be kept in cold storage until the world becomes vibrant again is nothing but ‘If I have been hurt in one eye, you also need to be hurt at the same point’.
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