The coronavirus second wave and subsequent lockdown and closure of cinema halls have definitely led to a change in the plans of Bollywood top stars.
The theatrical film format has changed in the last year as the market has shrunk and more movies are planning to go the OTT way. Nobody knows when the theatres will reopen and whether the pre-corona days box-office will come back along with the lucrative overseas market. The filmmakers and producers are not sure which release route they should take for big films. Should they go for a limited theatrical release along with Pay Per View (PPV), followed by OTT, DTH, and a few weeks later satellite television?
The film trade knows that change is the only constant and all stakeholders will have to keep pace with the evolving landscape during the pandemic. The second wave is yet to be over in India and people are now talking of a third wave! Most of the big stars and their backers have realised that cinema has only one real destination – a movie hall.
In India mainly Bollywood theatricals bring in almost 60 % of the total revenue, while down south it may be as high as 70 to 75 %. So no big mass star movie can survive purely from digital and television rights in the Indian context. And Indian mass commercial films are superstar-driven and can be enjoyed only on the big screen.
Meanwhile, Bollywood stars like Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Ajay Devgan are signing up multiple projects, which will see them in three or four releases a year. In fact, Akshay Kumar has three films ready for release – Sooryavanshi, Bell Bottom, Atrangi Re, and a final call will be taken on whether it will go theatrical or streaming first shortly! This looks likely to be the strategy that will be followed by most big stars with one foot firmly in theatre space and the other on the OTT platforms.
The days of a single big star film in a year is gone as actors have no clue what will work with theatrical viewers now on a diet of OTT film formats. At the same time when theatres reopen they need content to keep them going and a star film always attracts audiences. And if theatres do not reopen in the next three months, the star films will go the OTT way.
Down south in Kollywood the big stars are not doing as many films as their Bollywood counterparts. Rajinikanth (Annaatthe), Vijay (Thalapathy 65), and Ajith (Valimai) are doing only one film at a time and would start the shoot of their next film only after their under production hits the theatres. They are clear that they will only have a theatrical release first. At the same time, Suriya is working on a Pandiraj directed venture and another produced by Studio Green, both of which are slated for theatrical release. Dhanush’s Jagame Thandhiram is straight going to Netflix, and the actor is doing multiple films in Tamil, Hindi and a Hollywood film. However, Dhanush has made it clear that JT is a one-off film that due to circumstances is premiering on OTT and his heart lies in theatrical release.
Looks like the big heroes in Tamil know that without a theatrical release, they cannot get the kind of salary they command. They also do not want to reduce their star power at a time when theatrical valuation is coming down with dwindling collections due to the pandemic and its after-effects. Most of them will wait till theatres reopen and the business stabilizes to a certain extent, probably till Deepavali 2021. The actors and the audiences know that whenever a lockdown is declared the first to close and last to open will be the cinema halls. Till then they would rather wait without signing new films and enjoy their star power and stir the fan base via Twitter space and Clubhouse on social media.