“How can producers release films immediately? Unlike for an OTT film, we need some time to create publicity for a theatrical release. Plus, there still exists some uncertainty in the industry. Many producers are still wondering if they should release now or hold on for some more time to gauge response from the audience for theatrical releases. Distributors, too, have clearly said that they have no money to buy the rights of new movies. They are saying they will release the film and will only get into a simple distribution agreement, in which they will take 5 per cent commission from the box office collection and give the rest to the producer. This remains a big challenge,” says producer G Dhananjayan.
The first two weeks are mainly going to be a trial run to gauge audience response and gain confidence, says Naganathan, a distributor. “We have a couple of Hollywood films like Fast & Furious 9 and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings releasing on September 3. And BellBottom has done decent business in multiplexes here, getting about 40 per cent of the audience that usually comes for Hindi films. This is an encouraging sign and shows audiences are ready to come to theatres. But when it comes to Tamil cinema, most producers prefer releasing on festival dates, so all eyes are on September 10, which happens to be Vinayagar Chathurthi,” he explains.
“Given that Vinayaga Chathurthi is an auspicious day, producers also want to start on the right note by releasing films at that time. While Vijay Sethupathi’s Laabam and Kangana Ranaut’s Thalaivi have announced they are releasing that weekend, one more film is likely to join the list,” informs Dhananjayan.
But what about smaller films? Wouldn’t this weekend have been ideal for them? “With smaller films, they need to sell their satellite and digital rights to recoup some of the investment before thinking of a theatrical release. But satellite channels haven’t bought any small-budget film for almost the past six months because theatres were shut and they do not want to invest in a film whose release was uncertain. They only offer to buy the film as a direct OTT release. This is the reason why more than 50 per cent of the films have not been released,” says Naganathan.
He adds, “Small-budget movies will also not be able to generate ‘source’ (the amount that producers get by selling rights to other states). Even after the last lockdown, a big-budget film like Vijay’s Master came only during Pongal even though theatres had opened up before Deepavali. But the situation is even more unpredictable during this second wave. Given that no big film is ready for release, and only medium and small-budget films, most of which are yet to sell their satellite and digital rights, are complete, we are stuck in this situation.”
Talking about films that are likely to hit screens in September, he says, “Kodiyil Oruvan team has locked the satellite rights last week and has also sold the Telugu rights. So, with their source secure, they are in a position to target a September release. Meanwhile, the makers of Rudra Thandavam, who were behind last year’s sleeper hit Draupathi, have a demand when it comes to theatrical release. But since they are yet to do satellite and digital business, they are taking a month’s time to finalise that and are eyeing an October 1 release. The producers of Hip Hop Adhi’s Sivakumarin Sabatham, too, are waiting to finalise its satellite and digital business to firm up its release date. And Shiva’s horror comedy Idiot has locked their satellite and digital business, but since it is a film with potential as a theatrical release, the producers want to see how theatrical attendance is before taking a call on the release date. Basically, producers want to secure at least 50 per cent of their investment before exposing themselves to any financial risk.”
Meanwhile, Devadas Brothers, a small-budget film, is planning a release on September 3. “Well, someone has to bell the cat, right?” asks V Mathiyalagan, the producer of the film. He adds, “Those who are heavyweights, go to OTT. But OTT has become a cabal. People who know backdoor channels are getting the chance to release on OTT platforms. Before lockdown, we had four releases a week on average. So, in a year, we should be having 240 releases. But hardly a dozen films have been released on OTT since the lockdown. If you observe closely, you will find that only films made by a few production houses get released on OTT. This only shows that at the end of the day, theatres are the primary source of revenue for producers. While everyone wants to wait and watch, I feel that my film, which has popular artistes like Samuthirakani and Thambi Ramaiah, and has a good message, will appeal to my target audience, which is 18-25-year-olds. Also, people are frustrated with being inside their homes and want to get out. Yesterday, I saw a new Telugu release in a multiplex, and it had almost 50 per cent occupancy. For me, my decision is helping promote my film without me actually promoting it as people will be talking about it as the first Tamil film to be released in theatres post the lockdown. I had planned to release my film in 150 screens, but now, I am getting requests from distributors asking me to release the film in more screens. However, I have told them that I’d do that if the film does well, and wouldn’t go above 175 screens for now.”