Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana starrer, Gulabo Sitabo, which was released on Amazon Prime Video earlier this month was one of the first films that bypassed a conventional theatrical release due to the coronavirus lockdown. Made at a budget of Rs 40-45 crore, the film is known to have been acquired at Rs 60 crore by Amazon Prime Video. A large section of the industry believes that the slow narrative of the film would have never enabled it to make the kind of revenues it did, had it been released the conventional way. Unlike the high decibel promotions done for most Bollywood releases, Gulabo Sitabo had a rather modest promotion, where the actors took to social media and challenged people with a Gulabo Sitabo tongue twister.
Whether Gulabo Sitabo deserved a conventional release or not is a subject of debate, but digital releases of films are certainly here to stay. Disney+Hotstar announced the launch of Disney+Hotstar Multiplex where it would enable its viewers to watch first day, first show of films. A new film is typically released on an OTT platform eight weeks post its theatrical release. However, with COVID-19 putting multiplexes out of action and with no clarity of when they will be able to screen films, film-makers are increasingly opting for digital releases. Disney+Hotstar, starting from July 24, would be releasing films such as Laxmmi Bomb, Bhuj: The Pride Of India, Dil Bechara, Sadak 2, The Big Bull and Lootcase, and would make it available to its customers at Rs 399 on Disney+Hotstar VIP.
Uday Shankar - President, The Walt Disney Company APAC and Chairman, Star & Disney India, said, "At Disney+ Hotstar, we firmly believe in pushing boundaries to achieve the unexpected. A few years ago, we took an audacious step of bringing sports closer to people by streaming it live on mobile devices - a move that forever changed the course of LIVE sports in India. Today as we launch Disney+ Hotstar Multiplex, we find ourselves yet again at the cusp of making a revolutionary change by bringing the biggest Bollywood movies directly to millions across the country. We are happy to partner with the best directors and most talented actors; and provide them with a platform to present their masterpieces."
While film-makers claim that they have little choice but opt for digital releases in the absence of theatres, in reality, digital releases are a win-win for small to mid-budget film-makers (films between the budgets of Rs 5 crore to 50 crore). The producers have a revenue sharing model with the theatre owners, whereby the producer during the first couple of weeks of release gets around 52 per cent of the box office revenue, which in the following weeks settles at around 37 per cent in favour of the producer. Only 5-7 per cent of small budget films made at a cost of Rs 10-15 crore earn a Rs 50 crore revenue at theatres. "If a producer can do a good OTT deal, he may be able to earn more than his budget and even get 10-15 per cent ROI, without a theatrical release," explains a senior media professional.
Will film-makers completely stop theatrical releases? Tentpole films having a big star cast like Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan, which are aspiring for over Rs 300 crore revenue will never release their film on OTT, as theatre itself will give them Rs 200 crore revenue, which OTT will never be able to match. However, the smaller budget films dependency on theatres is likely to reduce significantly.