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INOX, PVR unhappy about films being released on online platforms like Amazon Prime Video

Shoojit Sircar's Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan & Ayushmann Khurrana, is one of several films skipping theatres & heading online.

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New Delhi: Critically-acclaimed movie director Shoojit Sircar’s latest venture, Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, will be released on Amazon Prime Video on 12 June. The movie was slated to hit theatres in April, but the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent nationwide lockdown has led to a change in plans. While viewers have expressed excitement about this move, theatre owners feel otherwise.

INOX, one of the biggest players in the field, released a statement that, without naming a specific production house, appeared to be addressing Sircar and his film’s producers, Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar, and conveyed unhappiness over their decision to release the film on the OTT platform.

Expressing its “extreme displeasure and disappointment”, the fastest growing cinema chain in India spoke about the long-standing practice of content windowing, and releasing movies in cinema halls first.

It said, “In these troubled times, it is disturbing to see one of the partners not interested in continuing the mutually beneficial relationship, especially when the need of the hour is to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, and bring the film industry back to its vibrant best.”

While the statement did not mention Sircar or his film, this statement came hours after Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan took to Twitter to make the announcement.

“Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners,” INOX said, in its strongly-worded statement, adding that they would now be “constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends.”

There is no legal obligation for producers to release their films in theatres first and in the current scheme of things, normalcy seems a distant possibility at best.

Yet the cinema chain said, “INOX would like to urge all content creators not to skip the theatrical run, and stay with the age old and established windowing pattern, which is in the best interests of all stakeholders in the value chain.”

OTT platforms have been a tough competitor to theatres

Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures Ltd., expressed similar discontent, but admitted that the competition that OTT platforms provide isn’t new.

“We are disappointed with some of our producers deciding to go straight to streaming platforms. We were hoping that the Producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopened,” Gianchandani told ThePrint.

“This is not the first time films are being premiered on streaming platforms. Cinema exhibition has regularly faced competition from new emerging distribution platforms over the last many years, and it has continued to enjoy cinegoers’ patronage and affinity,” he added.

While confident that demand for theatres will return once the lockdown comes to an end, Gianchandani expressed appreciation towards producers who “publicly voiced their support for the theatrical platform and have decided to reschedule their releases to accommodate the reopening of cinemas.”

Gianchandani refused to answer any further questions asked by ThePrint.

The filmmaker’s perspective

On his decision, Shoojit Sircar said, “I thought that since the film is ready — and I don’t know when cinemas will open — it was a very (apt decision). Digital is going to be co-existing with cinema. It is already the future.

“Ronnie [Lahiri] discussed with me that if this (digital release) happens, ‘what’s your view?’. And my view was very clear. I wanted to reach out as much and he told me this will simultaneously be released in some 200 countries. I never had this kind of release,” he said.

Several other movies are also going to be skipping a theatrical release and going straight to Amazon Prime Video, including Malayalam film Sufiyum Sujatayum, starring Aditi Rao Hydari, and Shakuntala Devi, starring Vidya Balan.

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