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An eight-week OTT gap won’t help; we still need better content

By Vinod Mirani

Two developments caught my attention. One is the decision by the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) that from August 1, all films should observe a gap of at least eight weeks between their theatrical and OTT releases. Currently, the gap between the two releases of a film is four weeks. Whether the industry, like filmmakers as well as exhibitors, thinks this will help films perform better at the box office is debatable.

The other development that speaks volumes about the way the Hindi film industry operates and makes films is the statement by SS Rajamouli, whose recent Telugu release, “RRR”, has proven to be one of the most big blockbusters of recent times. Its Hindi dubbed version was also a big hit. Rajamouli attributed the decline of the Hindi industry to the failure of Hindi filmmakers to make films for the masses.

The problem is, will delaying the release of OTT create a miracle and help movies get to theaters? Will this prove Rajamouli wrong? Above all, will this prove that the masses, who refuse to show up en masse in cinemas, are wrong? And what makes the industry believe that people don’t come to the cinema because they watch OTT movies!

The thing is, people don’t watch bad movies, even on OTT. To confirm this, just check his preferences on social networks. Bad films are not watched and therefore not even discussed. People discuss what they watch, of course.

If you go by Rajamouli’s observations, it has nothing to do with OTT. It’s just that the films made today do not interest and therefore do not attract people to theaters. If a movie fails to draw crowds on its first day, opening weekend, or otherwise, you can’t blame OTT.

Who makes the decision to release a film on OTT eight weeks after its theatrical release, instead of the current four-week lag? If this is advocated by the exhibition industry, they seem to forget that they were in such dire straits that during the tapering phase of Covid-19 Western cinemas were even ready to release films simultaneously with OTT platforms. , or vice versa.

The purpose of OTT platforms is achieved if a movie hits theaters and as such gets its promotion and awareness from the audience. An eight-week gap doesn’t really matter to them. And, finally, do the filmmakers want it that way? I do not think so. They stopped making films that lasted for eight weeks in theaters. The sooner it goes to an OTT platform, and a movie commits to it, the sooner the rights collection happens.

During the 1980s, when video piracy was a big threat to the box office, movies were still doing very well in cinemas, celebrating jubilees. The reason was that the movies had what the masses wanted. In fact, often after watching a pirated video, people would like to watch it on the big screen. And, all of this when the pirated video copies were simulcast with movies on the big screens on a Friday.

The problem isn’t OTT, or that people don’t come to the cinema because they’d rather wait a month. Lately, most movies are poor in content and lack the ingredients that bring audiences to the cinema. Even big star movies failed one after another. They lose traction on the Monday following the weekend in which they are released.

Come to think of it, what recent movie continued to play in theaters in its eighth week? Only one comes to mind, and that’s “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2”, which is still running in a few theaters, despite being released on an OTT platform after a four-week run.

The way a movie comes out now, in hundreds of theaters with multiple showings a day, if it’s going to do well, it’ll show day one indications and generate a few hundred crores in three to four weeks. All the great movies have proven that. Southern dubbed films continue to do so even though Hindi films are lacking.

The problem is that the big stars all deliver one flop after another. But they continue to stay, instead of taking a break like many other stars have before returning to play varied and sometimes important roles. Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, the late Rishi Kapoor – they all took a break when age went against their image.

When was the last hit by Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar? Not one in the last few years at least and it’s been a long time. The recovery target for their films is extremely high. The difference between a hit and a flop is its recovery versus its outlay. And the films of these stars in recent years are far from having recovered.

Hindi historical dramas such as ‘Padmavat’, ‘Bajirao Mastani’, ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’, ‘Samrat Prithviraj’ and ‘Panipat’ were all made about famous historical figures but could not create the magic required at the box office. Compared to these films, Rajamouli’s “RRR” is based on the lives of local freedom fighters who were unknown in the Hindi belt. The film, however, topped the box office here as well as in the South.

This is the complete package presented by a manufacturer – an idea that Hindi manufacturers seem to have walked away from.

From what we understand, if a movie doesn’t make its mark at the box office, few people are keen to watch it on OTT either, even after four weeks. By the ninth week, it will be out of people’s memory. And so many other things would have happened in the meantime. In this way, both are losers: the cinemas and the OTT investor.

It’s about making good movies. That alone will interest people. You can’t expect a movie to be successful just because it stars this or that person and it cost a lot of money. If you are complaining that South Indian movies are doing well, collecting millions of dollars in the Hindi belt, it is because you have created a vacuum and someone has to fill it.

The irony is that even you know South Indian movies are good and that’s why you choose to remake them, instead of working on original ideas on your own. The thing is, success doesn’t come on a plate!

Coming back to Rajamouli’s observation that the Hindi industry has stopped making films for the masses, let me point out that we no longer have the masses coming to the cinemas. Not with the exorbitant admission prices and certainly not since single screens started disappearing one by one. The South has retained its mass base and when their films come to the Hindi belt in the dubbed version, they come with the approval of the masses of the South.

Is Rajamouli allowed to comment on the Hindi film industry? If a man who was instrumental in bringing about some of the biggest blockbusters in the South, he is certainly qualified to do so.