Friday, May 7, 2021

Release back log, stale factor, revenue loss plague Bollywood: What lies ahead in the 2021 calendar?

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Pandemic related woes don’t seem to end for the film industry. Just when things were opening up with a barrage of films announcing their theatrical release, the second wave of Covid-19 hit, and once again led to curfews, restrictions , shutdown of cinemas and shoots. Obviously, there’s no clarity on the film releases, even those which are already delayed by a year.

“We don’t know how long the situation of curfews and partial lockdowns will continue. We don’t even know if there will be full-blown lockdowns. So everything is now in the back-burner. It is now a tailspin,” shares Shibasish Sarkar, Group CEO of Reliance Entertainment, which has films such as Sooryavanshi and ’83.

Noting how the plans for every filmmaker have gone for a toss, Sarkar adds, “This is exactly where we were last year at this time. Bollywood is a 18,000 crores industry, and that was until 2019. Last year, the business was wiped off by two third percentage. This year, too, there’s no scope for improvement given the situation. There was hope for revival in 2021. I don’t think any of us producers have really thought about the release schedule yet. But there surely will be a delay of three to four months. Now, the films which were to come in theatres from April onwards will be pushed to later half of the year, and the rest to 2022.”

The backlog is a big worry for many, as there’s a massive amount of uncertainty attached to when things will finally resume normalcy.

Filmmaker Anand Pandit, who delayed the release of his film Chehre, says, “I understand the backlog will put a major damper; it’s a very tough time for the film industry, but again, films are least of people’s concerns right now. Even government is also not giving any concession and exemption to us. As for the release calendar, I don’t think anybody is anymore being picky and choosy about dates, they just want their film out.”

Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President, TV & Films, Saregama feels that everyone was getting lulled into a sense of complacency thinking we were going to come back to normal. “Producers who can hold in terms of holding on to their revenue will hold, like we have seen huge films like Sooryavanshi and ’83 hold on for a long time. We had Zombivli releasing on April 30, which is a Marathi film which we decided to push because it is a film which has to be watched in theatres. The rest of our films are getting ready and we will get them released theatrically,” Kumar explains.

And all this delay means that some of the films have been ready for a year or more, but haven’t made its way to theatres, which is causing the fear that the content is getting stale and might end up looking dated upon its release.

However, Pandit doesn’t see that as a risk. “A film looks dated only when it takes a long time to make a film, like five or seven years. Then the technology, the dialogues and fashion becomes a bit obsolete. But otherwise it doesn’t. All these films that are going to come out have used good, cutting edge technology, so even a delay of a year or more won’t make them stale.”

And now with the prolonged delays, is there still the same level of excitement among the audiences when it comes to theatrical releases. Many industry insiders feel that the masses no longer care about the platform where a film is eventually releasing.

Trade expert Komal Nahta, however, disagrees. “Please don’t be mistaken that the audiences don’t care anymore about theatrical films. They’re worried about their safety, but once they feel safe and secure of course cinemas will thrive. People are saying that they are getting to watch films on OTT, so they don’t care but they are wrong. How can it be true, cinema viewing in theatres is an age old habit, it’s not a one year old or a 15-month old habit, how can that habit be replaced ever?”




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