These are dark times for humanity. And dark times for cinema, which has since the day the Lumiere Brothers pushed pictures into magical motion and movement at a Paris Salon in the closing years of 1800, remained one of the most enduring forms of entertainment and amusement. With theatres in most parts of the world having drawn their curtains as a precaution against the Coronavirus pandemic, there are dozens and dozens of films that are in the cans, ready to pop out. But where are the outlets?
Streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon, Disney-Hotstar, HBO, Zee 5 and the like have smartly turned their own fortunes into something remarkably lucrative. With most people in the world suffering the lockdown, nothing like an evening of entertainment at home, in one's own drawing room. Streaming platforms have been been filling our plates with plenty of goodies.
Movies like Tigertale, Extraction (also with Randeep Hooda), Coffee and Kareem, Money Heist (Part 4), Kim Kardashian: The Justice Project, Love Wedding Repeat, Sergio, She and Maska ( with Manisha Koirala) among many, many others have been allowed to jump the theatrical circuit and get straight onto streaming platforms. These cater to a variety of needs. While Tigertale is a sentimental story of a Taiwanese man's journey through his life, and Sergio is a tender love story of a top United Nations official when he is posted in East Timor, Extraction is an exciting adventure about a rescue.
Despite these examples of how cinema not just outside our country, but also in Mumbai (Maska, English Medium 2), has adapted to the changed scenario, Tamil cinema remains dogmatic in its resolve not to allow movies to head for streaming platforms bypassing cinemas!
A little while ago at the start of the lockdown when Karthi's Kaithi opened on a platform – admittedly after a run in theatres – there were murmurs of resentment.
Now, the latest Tamil film on the guillotine is the Jyotika-starrer, Ponmagal Vandhal (from Surya's production house). The debut feature of J J Fredrick was to have opened in theatres on March 27. Now, with a move to have the movie step on to a streaming platform (without bowing in cinema halls), a hue and cry is being raised. Exhibitors have threatened to boycott all films made by Surya/Jyotika if they go ahead with their move.
Panneer Selvam, Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners Association, has said: “This theatrical release Vs OTT release tussle has been going on for more than a year. We have also been insisting that movies be released on OTT platforms only 100 days after their theatrical release. But that’s also being violated in some cases. If we keep silent even now, it will affect the exhibitors very badly.”
He adds: “It is understandable if a newbie producer wants to release his small-budget film directly on an OTT platform to at least recover his investment. But in this case, these people (Surya/Jyotika) have been part of the industry for many years and know the issues everyone is facing. If they try to make money in these troubled times without any consideration for others, then that sets a bad example.”
However, exhibitor and distributor Tirupur Subramaniam quashes allegations of the exhibitors’ association planning to issue a red card to Surya’s productions. “I respect the rights of a producer to release his movie in whichever platform he prefers.”
Producer SR Prabhu feels that the “film industry would be among the last industries to resume business in a post-COVID-19 scenario. It will take several months for people to throng theatres even after the lockdown is lifted. There are producers who have taken money from financiers. You cannot expect them to wait till everything becomes normal even as the interest on the borrowed amount keeps mounting. People have already started watching content in different languages in various streaming sites. We should not end up in a situation where audiences are content watching stuff in other languages from the safety of their homes. We should keep feeding them Tamil content”.
A very valid point. What is more, when theatres finally open, dozens of movies will be jostling with one another to find a screen, and with the normal being several Tamil releases in a week (which was the case before the lockdown was imposed), many films will find themselves elbowed out. Even if these find a venue, it is difficult to make money – or break even – in this kind of situation with audiences being split!
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)
Follow @News18Movies for more