We’ve earlier witnessed this phenomenon in October 2021, when theatres in Maharashtra were allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity. Around Diwali, theatres in most parts of the country were operational and when Rohit Shetty’s ‘Sooryavanshi’ released, the audience flocked to the cinemas in huge numbers. ‘Pushpa: The Rise’ and ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ made record-breaking numbers worldwide. Kabir Khan’s ‘83 too released in December, but failed to rake in the moolah despite rave reviews, partly owing to the surge in Omicron cases. It became inevitable then for Shahid Kapoor-starrer ‘Jersey’ to get postponed from its December release.
In conversation with ETimes, Atul Kulkarni reflected on the emerging trend and said, “In the last two years, the entire world faced something unprecedented in all professions. Of course, that is going to have some impact. Like revenge tourism, there is going to be revenge filmism. You just check the collections when big films strike the theatres. It is going to be unbelievable.”
This week in #BigStory, we speak to trade experts, filmmakers and actors, and find out what the general sentiment on returning to normalcy with respect to theatrical consumption of films is going to be like in 2022.
Nothing’s gonna stop the footfalls
The restrictions have relaxed and the platter is set! With films like ‘Radhe Shyam’, ‘Bachchhan Paandey’, ‘Jersey’, ‘Heropanti 2’, ‘Jayeshbhai Jordaar’, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’, ‘Dhaakad’, ‘Maidaan’, ‘Prithviraj’, ‘Jug Jugg Jeeyo’ and many more slated to hit the silver screens in 2022, the audience will be spoilt for choice.
Film exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi says, “The line-up of films going ahead, including Bollywood and South films releasing with Hindi dubbed versions, is massive and I truly believe that the films that are having theatrical releases have immense potential to do phenomenal numbers at the box office. Between all these films that are coming up, the kind of response that we will see at the box office will be second to nothing that we have witnessed in many, many years. Over the last two years, people have been frustrated sitting indoors. They are now craving some outdoor recreation.”
Research Analyst Karan Taurani weighs in saying that revenge consumption of movies is going to continue for the next three to six months at least. “What exactly has been happening in the last one year is that it’s a vicious circle. There have been restrictions and because of restrictions, producers have not been confident to put up larger films because of high costs on cinemas and audience’s outcome. Restrictions are getting eased off in terms of night curfew, 100% occupancy allowance, and this has propelled many producers to put up their larger films, which will drive audiences in larger numbers. I think that’s one very important trend which is driving this revenge consumption,” he explains.
Not just big-budget films, even smaller ones with compelling content would attract the audience to the theatres. “Even small-medium budget films struggled a lot during the pandemic, because they were not wanting to release or take that risk of going into cinemas, and OTT was a safer route for them, a route wherein they were guaranteed some amount of ROI. But I think this trend could also reverse massively. Because clearly, if you look at the films, if the content is compelling enough, even in small-medium budget films, people are going to go to the cinemas to watch,” Karan adds.
However, film producer-exhibitor-distributor Sunny Khanna makes a valid point when he reflects on what will make the audience leave the safety and peace of their homes. “The audiences will rush to cinemas like never before. However, we must understand there are only certain kinds of films, pure event films, big starrers will make people leave their peaceful homes to come to cinemas. If the film is good, word of mouth is strong, people will come to cinemas. Period. Nothing can stop that now, or ever,” he says.
Theatrical business will be huge
With increasing footfalls, the film business is expected to see an upward trend indubitably. Filmmaker Boney Kapoor who is basking in the theatrical success of his latest Ajith starrer ‘Valimai’ says, “Good films will always rake in the numbers. There are a lot of plus points where ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, or ‘Bheemla Naik’ or ‘Valimai’ are concerned. Which is why the audience is flocking into the cinemas. Cinema will never die. Theatrical business will grow like nobody’s business, just wait and watch!”
Akshaye Rathi adds, “I truly believe that the coming financial year is going to be one of the best of what we’ve witnessed so far. Expect a business of over Rs 2500-3000 crore roughly!”
Are OTT platforms a threat to box office collections?
The pandemic has seen a remarkable evolution of audiences. When theatres were shut, OTT came to the rescue. When theatres reopened, films like ‘Pushpa: The Rise’, ‘Sooryavanshi’, ‘83 and others were streamed on OTT after their theatrical run. Then there is also OTT-focussed gripping content like ‘Gehraiyaan’, ‘A Thursday’, ‘Rudra: The Edge of Darkness’ and a lot more to choose from. The audience will definitely have a choice of platform to satisfy their entertainment needs. Will this shift in dynamics impact film business at the box office?
It’s for people to decide based on the promos, feels Sunny Khanna. “People are looking for a certain level of entertainment and upliftment. They decide as soon as the trailer is out… ‘Am I going for this? Is it a cinema viewing film? Or is it an OTT viewing film?’ Yes, it will dent the box office numbers too, but slowly things will be normal. However, the quality of stories, entertainment needs to go up a little further than it is currently,” he says.
Actress Sunny Leone, who is awaiting the release of her spy series ‘Anamika’ on MX Player, believes going to the movies is not yet back in full swing. “We are still scared. We went through so much trauma, and especially when you have kids to take care of, it’s a huge step to enter the theatres that way. If you were a family who had COVID at your doorstep, lost a family member or business, it would take a lot. But I do feel, people who go for the movies, and people who binge watch OTT are two totally different consumers. There’s a culture of the movie theatre that is very different from sitting at home watching 8 hours of a show,” she says. Having said that, OTT wouldn’t really impact box office numbers, she adds.
Karan Taurani chimes in with statistics and emphasises that OTT is not a threat as such. “If you look at the first wave, second wave of pandemic, close to 20-23 Hindi films have gone directly to OTT. That number has been largely stable. And I don’t see that number increasing sharply. In fact, due to trend reversal, the numbers will come down sharply. Because what happens in a cinema experience is that the producers always have a scope of getting a higher amount of positive surprise. So if a film goes to OTT, there is a certain amount of ROI which is reinstated and kept. But in the case of cinema, there is no limit in terms of what the film does at the box office if word of mouth picks up well. I think trend reversals will surely happen now in favour of cinemas and we will see a very sharp fall in terms of the number of films going direct to OTT. I’m not saying it will stop, it will continue but there is no such impact whatsoever on the box office as a whole, because the numbers are too small to speak for,” he says.
OTT is just a new format of cinema watching opines trade analyst Atul Mohan. “OTT flourished when cinemas were shut during the pandemic. And even that has reached a threshold now, people are confused about what to watch and how much to watch with so much content available to choose from. So, it’s an easier choice to watch one film in a theatre. People want to come to the cinemas, but they want the content to be paisa wasool. Good films will always work,” he says.
The irreplaceable joy of theatrical experience
The world of entertainment has seen a massive advancement over the years with newer and newer options mushrooming with the potential to replace cinemas. But the theatrical experience has always trumped its alternatives and it is here to stay.
“In the late 70s and early 80s, when Doordarshan was launched in India, people thought movies will now be watched on television and it will be the end of cinema. But nothing of that sort happened. Then came the VHS, followed by cable and satellite channels, home theatres, CDs, internet… but every time cinema emerged bigger and bigger. Nothing can replace the charm of watching a film on the big screen – sitting in an auditorium with other people, their reactions, laughing, whistling, clapping together – you won’t get this atmosphere elsewhere. Ghar baithe yeh maza nahi milega,” says Atul Mohan.
Boney Kapoor echoes the sentiment as he says, “OTT will be there but it will become a new vertical of revenue. We had satellite channels back in the day. There were ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayan’ on Doordarshan, IPL… but we have always found a way around emerging trends. Finally it is the cinema which is there and it will remain. Just like cricket enthusiasts can watch the match on TV as well, they still go to stadiums. Likewise, film enthusiasts will go to theatres for a different experience – they laugh together, or clap together. You can’t get that same theatrical viewing experience while watching on TV. Theatres like Sterling, Minerva will never go out of date. There is a certain pleasure to watch films on big screens.”