With news of B-Town stars testing COVID-19 positive everyday, will Bollywood postpone releases again? While the release of Jersey, Brahmastra have been postponed, Akshay Kumar’s Bachchan Pandey, Rajkummar Rao’s Badhaai Do, Laal Singh Chadha are set to release in theatres.
After facing a huge setback in 2020, the Hindi film industry was working hard to get back on track. It managed to achieve its original charm with many new projects being announced and long-delayed films such as Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi and Ranveer Singh-starrer 83 finding space on the big screen.
However, when it started feeling normal, the new variant of coronavirus made it difficult and many states started shutting cinema halls. Many celebs, such as John Abraham, Ekta Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Rhea Kapoor, Delnaaz Irani, Nora Fatehi, Mrunal Thakur, and Drashti Dhami, caught the virus.
While on one hand, the releases have been pushed, including that of Jersey, Prithviraj, Brahmastra, and more. But, recently, Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, who was one of the first stars to release his film Bell Bottom in theatres after the second wave of COVID-19 in 2021, announced that Bachchan Pandey will release on 18 March in cinema halls. Aamir Khan’s production house also took to their social media handle to say that there’s no change in the release date of the film. The statement read, “Aamir Khan Productions’ Laal Singh Chaddha’s release date stands as Baisakhi, April 14, 2022, contrary to some misleading stories.” Badhaai Do, starring Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar is also set to release in theatres on 11 February.
We reached out to Badhaai Do’s director Harshvardhan Kulkarni soon after the announcement and he tells us, “Film business is risky but someone had to do that. It’s a calculated risk. No one can take away the charm of theatrical releases and theatres have not been shut everywhere. We have to exist and release and wait for the new normal. Can’t comment on the box-office, but we are confident that viewers will shower love and will watch the film.”
Atrangi Re director Anand L Rai tells us, “Covid is a phase and it will go, but it’s time for us to understand that both the audience and the makers have evolved and grown. The ability to listen to out-of-the-box stories has become better. OTT is a part of everyone’s life and viewers are upgraded. They are consuming world cinema. Directors can up the game now with better stories. It’s time to raise the bar.”
Shwetaabh Singh, producer of Eeb Allay Ooo and Just Like That tells us, “We are working more on preparation these days. Preparing for whatever situations we are presented with. Working on scripts, shooting when it’s allowed, and trying to finish before another wave strikes. These are the only things in our hands and you can’t do anything about it. One option we are exploring is short films. It takes less time. And we are trying to change the approach with which we deal with short films,” while talking about the risks involved during these unforeseen circumstances.
There are many more avenues opening up with which the films can reach people and money can also be recovered, but the competition has increased ten folds. “Earlier all the big films were going to theaters and then coming to OTT, but with the onset of OTT exclusives/originals, the market is shrinking there as well for small films. With the kind of unpredictability we face, not everyone can afford to wait for the right window to release their films in cinemas. Of course, it robs everyone involved from the filmmakers to the audiences of the experience which one gets from watching a film in the theater,” he adds.
Haseen Dillruba released on Netflix became one of the most viewed films in 2021. The director Vinil Mathew feels theta OTT releases are an option for those who have finished shooting for the film. He has no inhibitions to release his movies on OTT platforms as “it is helping the content reach many more people. There’s a lot of financial pressure while we are sitting on films. As directors and actors, we are continuously working and if we would not release our projects, it will eat into the next one, we don’t want that.”
“Shoots are getting canceled and even those who are continuing to shoot have increased the level of safety protocols – this adds to the time and budget. It makes shooting much more difficult. There’s continuous stress for every crew member as the virus is traveling. If one of the crew members gets infected, the entire schedule gets messed up. The theatre viewing experience can’t be replaced but now lesser people are coming to watch – it impacts the box-office business,” he adds.
Jay Shewakramani, producer of upcoming film Freddy, starring Kartik Aaryan, Alaya F in lead roles has a different take, he says, “Dynamics have changed since the time theatres re-started. The audience who was dependent on home entertainment did step out to theatres in huge numbers. Box-office has not been that impacted as many films have done excellent business, however, it will take some time for people to come out of their homes. They are happy watching content online.”
Adding a better perspective to the conversation, the producer says, “Films eating into each other’s business was also happening pre-pandemic. The number of films that are up for release in a year is always more than the number of weeks – A consistent flow of films is key to bring people back to the theatres.”
Director Mozez Singh, whose recent medical thriller Human on OTT platform, starring Shefali Shah and Kirti Kulhari, is winning praises says, “We cannot avoid a halt in shooting as the cases are rising. Having said that, there is a magic of films released on the big screen. That will never go away. It’s too intoxicating. But OTT has brought a world of new opportunities to all creators, not just directors. Stories, revenue, presence. Eventually, both the box-office and the OTT space will have to find a way to coexist in a mutually beneficial way. It may take some trial and error to get there, but eventually, it will happen. Everyone will find a way to win, but this will change the business of movies, and that is the one thing we can be sure of.”
We can now just wait and hope that the virus’ scare comes to a stop so that the entertainment industry can sigh in relief once again.