The Indian box office is certainly on the mend after the Omicron wave of coronavirus infections with March witnessing three films—RRR, The Kashmir Files and Gangubai Kathiawadi—enter the Rs 100-crore club. But the sheer volume of content being produced and a changed audience mix post-pandemic means that OTTs are not going anywhere.
Gangubai Kathiawadi, which released on February 25 and stars popular actor Alia Bhatt, earned Rs 126 crore in a month, while The Kashmir Files, which released on March 11, collected Rs 231.28 crore in 18 days, according to the portal Bollywood Hungama. Telugu film RRR, which released on March 25, crossed the mark within six days across the five languages it released in.
Mumbai-based G7 Multiplex and Maratha Mandir Cinema’s Executive Director Manoj Desai says he has witnessed houseful shows for all three films, especially in the 6pm-9pm slot. His G7 Multiplex has more than 1,500 seats across six screens and Maratha Mandir Cinema has around 1,000 seats. “In March 2022, we’ve seen 70-80 per cent increase in footfalls over December 2021. At the time, there was a 50 per cent occupancy cap. Now, 100 per cent seating capacity is allowed. Also, people were scared to come even in December, but now… [they are] more confident.”
Trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai says that the three films were bound to bring audiences back, but 5-10 per cent of film-going audiences have permanently migrated to OTTs and are unlikely to return for the smaller films. “It requires a film like RRR to draw people to the theatres. It has these two big stars directed by a big director and it’s a big action movie.”
RRR amassed Rs 200 crore domestically across five languages in less than a fortnight of its release, according to Bollywood Hungama. The film had raked in a whopping `1,000 crore at the worldwide box office by the first week of April.
“Gangubai Kathiawadi also has its own audiences because of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and actor Alia Bhatt. But the film would have touched `100 crore even faster pre-pandemic. In the case of The Kashmir Files, it’s a controversial film and it was marketed in such a way that it created curiosity,” says Pillai.
The upcoming Vijay-starrer Beast and Yash-starrer KGF: Chapter 2 are also expected to see an overwhelming theatrical response given the stature of the two stars among Tamil and Kannada-speaking audiences, respectively, as well as the timing of their release. The two films are releasing a day apart on April 13 and April 14—a long weekend at the start of summer season. Besides, the dubbed versions of both films are set to release in the three other South Indian languages as well as Hindi.
“The momentum will continue in the coming months. The Indian Premier League cricket may take away a little sheen but there are a number of movies in Bollywood as well as [in] regional languages to be released over the next few months. Looking at the trend, there would be a big release every week,” says Vivek Menon, Founding Partner of NV Capital, a media and entertainment fund.
But the over-the-top (OTT) streaming services face no pressure because of the increase in theatrical releases. In fact, they prefer them too, experts say. “All films will find a way to OTTs, either directly or after a theatrical release. Will direct-to-OTT films reduce? Yes, but it will not slow down OTTs because we are parallelly investing in originals much higher than what we did last year,” ZEE5 India’s Chief Business Officer Manish Kalra tells Business Today. London-based research firm Omdia’s ‘India: Online Video Trends’ report estimates that OTT platforms in India pumped Rs 3,700 crore into original content in 2021.
“Imagine the hype for RRR’s OTT release after it has earned some Rs 700 crore in theatres worldwide. A theatrical hit film has its own valuation on OTT. Besides, there will be thousands of people who will have not have watched the smaller hit films in theatres, hoping to catch them on OTTs in four weeks. So, that anticipation is also there. Both businesses will be driven parallelly and there won’t be any problem,” says Pillai.
Menon agrees. “OTT platforms will prefer some of these tent pole movies to release in theatres rather than paying a humungous cost for them. The conundrum would be for the smaller movies which would also like to go for theatrical [releases] but would get sandwiched between the bigger releases. The OTT platforms would love to lap up those movies so that they can premiere on their platforms rather than go theatrical.”
In fact, Pillai says the OTTs are on a dream run, and are unable to manage the volume of content flowing on to their platforms. Besides, watching a film in a theatre today can easily set you back by a minimum of Rs 1,000 for two people. Add to that inflation and rising petrol prices. On the other hand, for about Rs 275 a month (based on annual subscription costs), you can subscribe to 3-4 top OTT platforms, he reasons. Besides, Kalra adds, OTT penetration in India is expected to go up to 30-35 per cent over the next 3-4 years from the roughly 16 per cent now. India has 700-800 million smartphone users. There are 96 million paid OTT subscriptions in the country across 40.7 million paying audiences, according to data from Ormax Media. That works out to 2.4 subscriptions per paying audience member. India has more than 40 OTT apps even as newer regional players enter the fray every few months, offering content in a dizzying array of formats, languages and payment models.
Looks like India can get ready for an entertainment extravaganza.
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