With the lockdown imposed due to the raging numbers of COVID 19, businesses had taken a hit and one of the biggest victims was the entertainment industry. While theatres and cinema halls had been given the green light to open up to the public, Maharashtra was one of the last states to do so. In October this year, multiplexes finally heaved a sigh of relief as their doors opened and screens lit up for the much-loved audience who couldn’t wait to get back to their first-day first show thrill. The pandemic put a stopper to a lot of things and the excitement of going to the movies along with the fresh smell of popcorn was one of these. Now that cinemas reopen, will people flock to them as before or have people in the cities gotten used to virtual releases? We speak to filmmakers and directors and get a sense of this.
As cinemas reopen, will theatres pick up after the slump they were in?
Shanawaz Nellikunnil, a Director says what resonates with the Indian audience is the experience of going to the cinema. “Going to a theatre is like a tradition or as we say "time pass". It's about pure entertainment and family bonding. Most of the time movie outings would be clubbed with a beach or a dinner night. Virtual releases exposed Indian audiences to a wide range of films which is great. But I think post-pandemic, now that cinema houses have opened up, they will definitely see a spike in the audience.”
He goes on to say that it is a tricky subject to speak about which kind of release, virtual or theatre, is better from the point of view of backend and production. “I have two of my films on the OTT platform, Candyflip on Netflix and 405 - short film (just left Mubi), but I always wished for a theatre release just to see how the audience reacts to sound and visuals without being distracted. I don't think these movies would even get a theatrical release as it didn't make sense to spend crores of rupees to promote and fight for screens.”
The Director thus says that if you want to make a film which is expensive you need to get an actor who can bring in people to the theatre. But at the same time, when you bring a famous actor on board, the budget of the film becomes 3 times the original budget and now to attract the audience one needs to spend more money on the promotion and release. “When OTT giants entered, they exposed the audience to films from around the globe and our audience changed significantly in the last few years. But unfortunately now with big stars and famous directors entering the virtual market, even OTT decision-makers find it safe to rely on them than their earlier model. In short, it's like the rich getting richer.”
“Just develop good scripts, believe in the Director's vision and let the audience decide what's good or what's bad. I feel India has really good directors, but only a handful of good producers.” - Shanawaz Nellikunnil
Shanawaz feels to come to a middle ground about which kind of releases would work better for the Indian audience, the right people should be given the power to decide which scrips should be turned into movies. “I think our actors in India won't reject a good script; why would they? Imagine our famous stars signing up for films with great scripts and these being made without interference from people who don't know filmmaking at all. I feel the audience is ready but the producers need to be ready to step up.”
Will virtual releases fade off as cinemas reopen?
Digvijay Patil, a Cinematographer says content is what is the most important of all, whether this is online releases of films or theatre releases. “Due to the pandemic, the audience is divided into two. If the content is good, you can watch it anywhere and it will appeal the same to the audience as people tend more towards good content.”
On the other hand, he says virtual releases give you the flexibility to watch at your convenience with a bunch of other options. “You can always go to the theatre to refresh yourself once in a while and for a good chance to divert your mind from work.”
Digvijay is of the opinion that the pandemic put things into perspective and showed the audience that theatre is not the only way to watch a movie. “I really doubt that things will be the same as they were before. People have options now to see their favourite films, actors and actresses. If the industry used all the forces to release their products on the big screen then yes, definitely the theatre industry will pick up their losses.”
“After living and looking at these 2 years of pandemic, from a filmmakers point of view I think there should be light hearted romantic comedy, and few typical Bollywood action films as people have seen lots of drama, tragedy and some serious shit.” - Digvijay Patil
He thinks it's time to relax and chill with no burden while watching films nowadays. Hopefully, films will help people to cope up with their losses, tragedies and give them a moment of happiness, he says.
What is the kind of content that we will see in the coming year?
Shravan L Bokadia, a freelance filmmaker says people in Indian society have found a good balance between OTT releases and theatre. He says in commercial theatre, we don’t usually see bold films as people go to the movies with their families, kids and aren’t too comfortable with such content. “With OTT releases, people get to see the movie in the comfort of their homes and smart TVs have made this cost-effective.”
“The subtitle industry is booming because of regional films being translated into multiple languages and this has provided jobs to many. In addition, to shoot films that will later release in theatres, huge cameras and equipment are needed that cost much to even rent. The entire filmmaking process is expensive.” - Shravan Bokadia
Speaking about theatre releases now as cinemas open, Shravan says that going to the cinema is more than just viewing the movie. “People need the traditional theatre experience as it lets you live the moment. When you watch a good Bollywood masala film or a James Bond movie, it is an altogether different experience to have 200 odd people around you laughing and having the same fun.”
What is needed, says Shravan, is for agreements between the aggregators that films that are released in theatres will not be shown on OTT platforms for at least a year later. This way, both groups will make their money. As for whether theatres will pick up speed now as cinemas reopen, the filmmaker says definitely. “Food can be delivered online too, but we love going to restaurants and spending an evening out. Likewise with theatres.”
The coming year will see nonsensical releases as the people in the business are looking to make up for losses and mint money. “After a year or two, once they have made up for the losses incurred, we may see good quality films once more.”