INOX and PVR are worried. As digital releases nibble away at some films that were supposed to be releasing now, the exhibition industry is crying foul. Seven major films across the country are now releasing on Amazon Prime Video, including the Aayushmann Khurrana–Amitabh Bachchan starrer Gulabo Sitabo. Other films getting a digital release include Penguin (Tamil and Telugu), Sufiyum Sujatayum (Malayalam), Law (Kannada) and French Biryani (Kannada).
INOX and PVR have both expressed disappointment in the trend. PVR was a bit measured, telling HuffPost India, “We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopened.” INOX was more ballistic, threatening retaliation on producers like Gulabo Sitabo’s, accusing them of being “fair-weather friends”. This, even as the chain admitted that these deals were “isolated”. The Producers Guild of India issued a statement today saying it was “disappointing to see abrasive and unconstructive messaging” from the exhibition industry, arguing that producers have also been bleeding money from things like unused sets having to be torn down and mounting interest on money raised for financing stalled productions.
STATEMENT BY INOX ON A PRODUCTION HOUSE’S ANNOUNCEMENT TO RELEASE THEIR MOVIE ON AN OTT PLATFORM BY SKIPPING THE THEATRICAL RUN pic.twitter.com/NfqoYV2QRx
— INOX Leisure Ltd. (@INOXMovies) May 14, 2020
Theatrics aside, this is an interesting pivot for Amazon Prime Video, which was once noted for its un-Netflix-esque willingness to accommodate Hollywood’s three-month release schedule. But in India, Amazon has been pushing those limits since it signed a massive deal with Salman Khan in August 2017 that allowed it to release his films just a month after theatrical release. That one month window has become increasingly more common for Indian films, especially on Prime Video. Now, the streaming service is taking the natural next step and buying films amid the pandemic, essentially wiping out their chance for a theatrical release in the first place. With theatrical release windows already among the tightest in the world, it is unclear how the multiplex business, until now relatively unscathed by streaming providers, will bounce back to pre-pandemic levels of business.
This fistfight between exhibitors and embattled film producers is happening in Hollywood too. AMC, the US multiplex chain, declared rather dramatically that it would no longer screen Universal Studios’ films, after Universal released Trolls World Tour directly for on-demand purchase. (This is all happening as speculation that AMC is being acquired by Amazon lifts the chain’s shares.)
Updated (12:17pm): Added information from the statement issued by the Producers Guild of India.