An 8-week OTT gap won’t help; We still need better content

An 8-week OTT gap won't help;  We still need better content

Two developments caught my attention. One of them is the decision by the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) that all films from August 1 must respect a break of at least eight weeks between their theatrical and OTT releases. Currently, the gap between the two releases of a film is four weeks. Whether the industry, both filmmakers and exhibitors, believe this will help films do better at the box office is debatable.

The other development that says a lot about how the Hindi film industry works and makes films was the testimony of SS Rajamouli, whose recent Telugu release “RRR” has proved to be one of the biggest blockbusters in recent times. The dubbed Hindi release was also a huge hit. Rajamouli attributed the decline of the Hindi industry to the failure of Hindi filmmakers to make films for the masses.

The question is, will delaying the OTT release work a miracle and help movies hit theaters? Will that prove Rajamouli wrong? Above all, will it prove otherwise to the masses who refuse to flock to the cinemas? And what makes the industry think that people don’t come to the cinema because they watch films on OTT!

The fact is, people don’t watch bad movies, even on OTT. To confirm this, all one has to do is check their social media preferences. Bad films are not watched and therefore not discussed. People naturally discuss what they see.

Going by Rajamouli’s observations, this has nothing to do with OTT. It’s just that the movies that are being made these days don’t interest people and therefore lure them into theaters. If a film doesn’t pull in an audience on day one, opening weekend, or otherwise, you can’t blame OTT.

Whose decision is it to release a film on OTT eight weeks after its theatrical release instead of the current four weeks? When endorsed by the exhibition sector, they seem to forget that they were in such a desperate situation that during the Covid-19 phase-out, cinemas in the West were even willing to release films concurrently with OTT platforms, or vice versa.

The purpose of OTT platforms is fulfilled when a film hits theaters and thus receives its promotion and public attention. A gap of eight weeks hardly matters to them. And finally: Is that how the filmmakers want it? I do not think so. They stopped making films that held up in theaters for eight weeks. The sooner it goes to an OTT platform and a film is committed, the sooner the rights are redeemed.

In the 1980s, when video piracy was a major threat to the box office, films were still doing very well in the cinemas, celebrating anniversaries. The reason was that the films had what the masses wanted. In fact, after watching a pirated video, people often want to watch it on the big screen. And all this when the pirated videos were released at the same time as the films hit the big screens on a Friday.

The problem isn’t OTT, or that people don’t come to theaters because they’d rather wait a month. Most movies lately are low in content and don’t have the ingredients that draw audiences to the cinema. Even the big star films fail one after the other. They lose traction on the Monday after the weekend they are released.

Come to think of it, what recent film continued in theaters into its eighth week? Only one I can think of and that is Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, which is still showing in some theaters despite being released on an OTT platform after a four week run.

Just as a film is now released in hundreds of cinemas with multiple screenings per day, if it has to do well, it will show the indications from day one and generate a few hundred million euros within three to four weeks. All the great films have proven that. Films dubbed in the South continue to do so, even as Hindi films fall short.

The problem is that the big stars all flop after flop. But they continue to hang in there, rather than taking a hiatus like many other stars did before coming back to play varied, and sometimes big, roles. Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, the late Rishi Kapoor – they all took a break when age betrayed their image.

When was the last hit of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar? At least not in the last few years and that’s a long time. The recovery goal for their films is extremely high. The difference between a hit and a flop is its recovery relative to its effort. And the films of these stars are far from recovered in recent years.

Historical Hindi dramas such as Padmavat, Bajirao Mastani, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Samrat Prithviraj and Panipat were all shot with well-known historical figures but failed to create the requisite magic at the box office. Compared to those films, Rajamouli’s “RRR” is based on the lives of local freedom fighters that we knew nothing about in the Hindi belt. The film, however, dominated the box office here, as it did in the South.

It’s about the total package presented by a maker – an idea that the Hindi makers seem to have become alienated from.

When a film doesn’t make it at the box office, it shows that a lot of people don’t like watching it on OTT even after four weeks. In the ninth week it will be gone from people’s memories. And in the meantime so much else would have happened. So both lose: the cinemas and the OTT investor.

It’s about making good films. That alone will interest people. We can’t expect a film to do well just because it’s played like this and cost a lot of money. If you’re complaining about South Indian films doing well and raising millions in the Hindi belt, it’s because you’ve created a vacuum and someone needs to fill it.

The irony is that even you know South Indian films are good, so you choose to remake them rather than work on original ideas yourself. The thing is, success doesn’t come on a platter!

Coming back to Rajamouli’s observation that the Hindi industry has stopped making films for the masses, I would like to point out that we no longer have masses coming to the cinemas. Not with the horrendous entrance fees and certainly not since the individual screens gradually disappeared. The South has retained its mass base and when its films come into the Hindi belt in the dubbed version, they come with the approval of the South’s masses.

Does Rajamouli have the right to comment on the Hindi film industry? If a man has been instrumental in some of the South’s biggest blockbusters, he certainly qualifies.

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