With Delhi and Maharashtra still not allowing theatres to reopen despite the Centre’s nod, Bollywood is taking the first steps to recover business from the overseas markets, where cinemas have resumed. Zee Studios, which is bringing its Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Pandey-starrer Khaali Peeli to its pay-per-view service Zee Plex on October 2, is also releasing it in cinemas in countries such as USA, Singapore, Netherlands, Austria, Fiji, Africa, and Mauritius.
Meanwhile, Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, which premieres on Disney+ Hotstar in India, will simultaneously release in theatres across Australia, UAE and New Zealand for the Diwali weekend. Disney’s older direct-to-digital films, Dil Bechara, Sadak 2 and Lootcase will also arrive in theatres in Australia this month.
Dil Bechara, which had already released in New Zealand and Fiji last month, had made NZ$ 48,436 (Rs2.35 million) and FJ$ 33,864 (Rs1.16 million) over its opening weekend.
“It’s a hybrid monetization model that the studio can follow when it owns all the rights,” film trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said, pointing to companies such as Zee and Disney which own all rights to the films in question and can choose to bring them to select theatres unlike other producers who have sold their films to video streaming platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. The studios would ordinarily seek theatrical releases in countries where their OTT (over-the-top) streaming platform does not have much of a presence, Johar said.
To be sure, theatrical release in most places around the world, is notional as of now, and a way to get the cycle going instead of really looking at huge monetary benefits. Older hits like Ajay Devgn’s Tanhaji-The Unsung Warrior, Varun Dhawan’s Street Dancer 3D, Ranveer Singh’s Simmba and Sushant Singh Rajput’s Kedarnath only made $8,000, $5,000, $7,000 and $3,000 respectively over their opening weekends in New Zealand when released there in July.
Meanwhile, the Indian theatrical market still seems a long way off from recovery. States such as Maharashtra and Delhi, which contribute more than 50% of the box office collections in case of many films, have already notified that cinema halls will continue to remain shut in the latest phase of unlocking. According to a report by south India movie portal AndhraBoxOffice.com, the Karnataka Film Exhibitors Association is aiming to open cinemas on 1 November in time for Kannada Rajyotsava Day, while exhibitors of Telugu-speaking cities are awaiting approvals from both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. As of now, West Bengal remains the only state to have permitted cinema operations.
The other big challenge remains that of content. With most films that were complete and ready for release already having made their way to video streaming platforms, theatre owners have little on offer to woo audiences back. While Reliance Entertainment has not made an official announcement yet, there is speculation that its big Diwali release, Sooryavanshi will be pushed to a later date.
“Pan-India cinema opening could be expected around Diwali or by the last week of November,” Karan Taurani, research analyst at Elara Capital Ltd said. With large-scale local content or a big Hindi film unlikely to hit screens before December, in that case, Hollywood offerings such as Tenet or the new James Bond film, No Time to Die could test waters in the meantime as Sooryavanshi and Ranveer Singh-starrer ’83 move to Christmas and beyond, perhaps to Republic Day, Taurani added.