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Small-scale films languish for want of theatrical, OTT release

Theatres are not keen to give space to small films and unless they release in cinemas, streaming platforms do not agree to buy them.
Small-scale films languish for want of theatrical, OTT release
A poster of comedy drama Mister Mummy, (Twitter)
  • Lata Jha
  • LiveMint

Last Updated: 12.46 PM, Nov 14, 2022

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A slate of small budget films made without stars are lying unsold especially after the poor performance of titles like Anek, HIT: The First Case, Goodbye and Thank God recently. These small-scale films without a star cast are in for a double whammy as theatres not keen to give them space or short-change them with poor scheduling if at all, and unless they release in theatres, streaming platforms are not keen to buy them.

“One of the early trends, post-pandemic, has pointed towards small and mid-budget films failing to make a mark at the box office with big-budget, event films taking precedence. There was immense market disruption in the industry during the pandemic, with OTTs paying huge premiums on direct-to-OTT deal structures, at times resulting in producers and stakeholders making up to 100% margin on their films. This influx of money led to producers greenlighting projects rapidly, understandably to attain maximum benefits under the trend,” said Kanupriya A Iyer, head of business affairs and senior producer at Locomotive Global Media, a production house. As with any disproportionate spike ever, correction eventually set in and some of the films produced during this period did not find a direct OTT house, Iyer said adding that the situation is more exaggerated in Hindi. “Regional films have controlled budgets and always had a targeted theatrical audience so the effect may not be that high, both in terms of the number of films and overall costs,” Iyer added.

Film producer and distributor Sunny Khanna called it a disastrous time for small-scale films that have been flooding theatres with negligible buzz over the past few weeks, with multiplexes clearly favouring bigger films. Film trade experts said Jahnvi Kapoor-starrer Mili, Sonakshi Sinha and Huma Qureshi’s Double XL, romantic drama Tara vs Bilal, all of which released in cinemas recently and the upcoming slate that includes comedy drama Mister Mummy, are examples of such films. They will see limited release in 250-400 screens, only in order to fulfil the criterion for an OTT release. Several others like Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Bole Chudiyan and Rome Roam Mein are awaiting release. Anushka Shah, founder, Civic Studios, a production house agreed Indian OTTs prefer the film having a theatrical release so as to benefit from the traction the film may get through the release and validate the film’s potential.

“Several films are ready but OTTs are clear they don’t want to spend an additional Rs. 3-4 crore on marketing the movie from scratch,” Khanna said.

Film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said it’s a crisis for filmmakers whose projects are ready but others who may have been in the process of green-lighting new scripts, are taking their time. “OTT platforms who had begun to overpay for such films, have realised it is not translating into new subscribers coming on board. They prefer validated products that have undergone the box office test and those that they don’t have to spend on publicity and advertising for. If the film bombs, nothing lost and if it’s a surprise hit, they don’t mind paying,” Johar said.

However, Vaibhav Modi, founder-director at Victor Tango Entertainment, a production house that is working on some mid-scale film scripts, said things can’t change overnight for an entire genre. “A lot of OTT players are still trying to figure their positioning and the big ones that are on way to consolidation, will not just step back (from acquiring content). A lot depends on the idea of the specific film and how it has been packaged,” Modi said.