With Amazon Prime Video becoming the first streaming service in India to announce that several movies would skip theatres that remain shut due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and directly release on its platform, cinema chains — including the likes of INOX and PVR Cinemas — have responded to the change in release strategies that represents a threat to their business model. Both INOX and PVR said they were “disappointed” by the decision of the producers to disregard the theatrical window and go straight-to-streaming. But while PVR was more neutral and retains confidence in the existing model once things go back to normal, INOX was more assertive and warned of “retributive measures” against “such fair-weather friends”. Producers Guild of India has responded to INOX’s response, terming it “abrasive and unconstructive”.
First day, first show! We’re premiering 7 highly anticipated Indian movies of this year on Prime Video.
Which one are you waiting for?https://t.co/tVK7QGkAQv
— Amit Agarwal (@AmitAgarwal) May 15, 2020
“INOX would like to express extreme displeasure and disappointment on an announcement made by a production house today, to release their movie directly on a [streaming] platform by skipping the theatrical window run,” INOX said in a mailed statement, which was issued after the reveal of Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Gulabo Sitabo, but prior to the others. “The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting. […] Such acts, though isolated, vitiate the atmosphere of mutual partnership and paint these content producers as fair-weather friends rather than all-weather life-long partners. Needless to say, INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures, in dealing with such fair-weather friends.”
PVR Pictures CEO Kamal Gianchandani told HuffPost India: “We are disappointed with Gulabo Sitabo’s decision to go straight to a streaming platform. We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopened. [… A theatrical release is the] best way for audiences to experience the labour and creative genius of our filmmakers. […] Cinema exhibition has regularly faced competition from new emerging distribution platforms over the last many years, and it has continued to enjoy cine-goers’ patronage and affinity. […] We are confident, once we get to the other side of this phase, there would be enough pent-up demand by cine-goers who have been cooped up at homes for the last many weeks.”
Producers Guild of India said on Twitter: “This is a time for the entire film industry to come together with empathy and support for the difficult predicament that [everyone] finds themselves in. […] Hence, it is disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging form some of our colleagues in the exhibition sector.” In its statement, PGI noted several reasons that are putting a heavy burden on producers, including expensive unused sets, interest costs, lack of clarity on re-opening of cinemas in India and abroad, lower occupancy post-pandemic, and huge backlog of films awaiting release. It added: “We are unequivocally and passionately supportive of theatrical release [but for] producers to keep ‘producing’ the movies that light up our cinema screens, they need to be in business in the first place.”
Though Amazon was the first officially, it’s likely not going to be the last one to acquire theatrical films for streaming in India. Disney+ Hotstar is reportedly in discussions over Disney-owned Fox Star Studios’ Akshay Kumar-starrer Laxmmi Bomb. Meanwhile, Netflix is said to be in “final” talks with T-Series over a multi-film deal. Additionally, India isn’t the only country where this battle is being raged. In the US, after Universal Pictures boasted of the success of Trolls World Tour that went direct to video-on-demand — albeit not in India — leading chain AMC Theaters said it was banning the studio.
But not everyone is receiving the same amount of flak from cinema chains. Warner Bros. follows Universal on Friday with the second major animated movie, Scoob!, though that will also not be available in India. And next Friday on May 22, Netflix will première the Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae-starrer The Lovebirds, which it acquired from Paramount Pictures. Disney will follow that up with its Artemis Fowl adaptation straight to Disney+ Hotstar on June 12, and then the movie recording of the award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton on July 3.