Changing times calls for changes in an industry. The name of the game is adapting. Still, when change occurs friction can't be avoided. Perhaps, that's exactly what's happening in the Indian film fraternity.

After certain movies have gone the OTT way with their releases, theatre owners panicked over the expected move. For them, it would mean a huge loss of business. While producers defended themselves over the issue saying that they needed to prioritise their business and movies first, some filmmakers are still hoping for a major theatrical release. 

Rohit Shetty and Karan Johar

The theatrical versus OTT debate

Choosing a mode of release for a big-budget film wasn't the toughest question before. But, these are different times. The world as many has already divided it will be 'pre-Corona' and 'post-Corona'. Now, there is anxiety everywhere about the COVID-19 situation. As cases climb steeply, being out of the crisis looks like an uphill battle. 

For filmmakers and for exhibitions this spells huge losses as theatres remain firmly shut for the near future. On the other hand, the OTT platforms are turning out to be experiencing windfall gains out of the crisis as the socially distant future is starting to look like reality much after the crisis has passed.

It's only fitting then that filmmakers would switch to the digital route and explore new ways to take films off shelves and get moving. While the math looks murky, this has created two factions within Bollywood, as a few films like- Gulabo Sitabo and Shakuntala Devi chose a digital release on Amazon Prime

There was outrage among the theatre owners who saw this as a direct threat to their future and their current situation of distress. The pandemic was unprecedented INOX and PVR urged makers to push dates of their theatrical releases assuring them that they were certain business would run as usual. One must ask, however, for how long? 

Big Bollywood filmmakers like Karan Johar and Rohit Shetty are looking at theatrical releases

This uncertainty has caused much debate in the industry. The Producers' Guild had responded that the criticism by theatres was unfair as producers had to choose routes that would be in their best interest, especially many films in the pipeline have been put on hold indefinitely and this isn't sustainable. 

For a moment it's also important to consider that certain films are made for the big screen. Maybe there are films whose style of storytelling and filmmaking are better suited for the digital medium which has always catered to a more personal viewing experience. Whereas the multiplex and silver screen format is made for public viewing and films perhaps like Sooryavanshi with large action sequences are suited to that format, in fact, are even made keeping the viewing experience in mind. 

Therefore, this is a varied debate boiling down to a producer's decision based purely on analytics and outcomes. Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Kabir Khan have all pushed their release dates to the second half of the year, hoping for a big theatrical release. Movies like Sooryavanshi and '83 then can be expected to play at the cinema. Maybe the mechanics of measuring the box office too will change after OTT releases become common.

How will this affect the business? According to experts, films like Sooryavanshi made upwards of 150 crores in the budget, should be able to recover their cost by taking the digital route, however, the conventional route i.e theatrical, followed by OTT release and finally satellite, should be more profitable. What we're perhaps not taking into account are the post-lockdown situation and mindsets where reports have emerged where public perception and behaviour towards social gatherings including cinema halls. That's what we're debating here. Ultimately it's the maker's move. Would you watch a film at a theatre or at home on a TV screen?