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Theatrical window eliminated (for now) as Radhe gets simultaneous streaming release

It took a deadly pandemic to get much deadlier, but it has happened: in a significant first for a big budget film, Salman Khan’s Radhe will get a simultaneous release in theatres and the streaming platform Zee5, the platform announced on Wednesday. The film will also get a pay-per-view release on satellite TV. This is the second time Salman Khan’s films have shortened theatres’ exclusivity window; a deal that his studio signed with Amazon Prime Video in 2017 played a huge role in reducing the industry standard theatrical exclusivity window to 30 days. “We don’t want to deny the audience the choice of entertainment in the comfort of their homes during these times,” a Salman Khan Films spokesperson said.

Theatre associations who have, throughout the pandemic, blasted filmmakers for releasing directly on streaming platforms, are not likely to complain. For one, Salman Khan can actually draw crowds to theatres (many of which are operating at limited capacity) in spite of a streaming release. Second, not letting viewers have the choice between watching at home and a risky trip to an enclosed air conditioned hall at a time like this would mean that movie halls would have blood on their hands — an amount of blood they cannot disclaim.

This is more of a milestone for SARS-CoV-2 than it is for the streaming business. In the US, Warner announced that all its films in 2021 would come out simultaneously on HBO Max and theatres to give viewers a safe alternative to heading to theatres. Indian exhibitors of Hollywood films extracted a concession, and Godzilla vs. Kong released two weeks before the US here, as will probably all Warner films. But now, things have deteriorated to such an extent — with over 300,000 people testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday — that exhibitors are likely breathing a sigh of relief to be allowed to operate at all, and will take what they get.

People have tried and failed to do simultaneous home video–theatre releases before the pandemic. Kamal Haasan tried for Vishwaroopam in 2012, and theatre owners blocked his efforts. Stronger entities than him have been laughed out the door — Reliance Jio touted something called First Day First Show, but that initiative silently flopped, with literally no film being released by the powerful telco.

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