Not just India, Hindi movies have — over the years — developed a major fan following in several overseas markets as well, largely thanks to the Indian diaspora and South Asian populace. And it’s interesting to note that even as theatres continue to remain shut in the country, filmmakers are looking at certain foreign circuits (wherever cinemas are functioning) to have a stint with the big screen again.
For starters, Ishaan Khatter-Ananya Pandey starrer Khaali Peeli has had a limited release — with “very few prints” — in countries such as USA, Singapore, Netherlands, Austria, Fiji, Africa, and Mauritius. Likewise, Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi Bomb, which will premiere on a streaming site in India on November 9, is going to simultaneously release in theatres across Australia, UAE and New Zealand. Also, other recent straight-to-OTT films like Dil Bechara, Sadak 2 and Lootcase are set to hit silver-screens in Australia this month.
Charm of big screen
“I guess, as filmmakers/storytellers, we will always be eager for audiences to see our work on the big screen, as the charm of 70mm will never go away. Though theatres have been closed in India, it’s great to have our films released in cinemas, wherever they are allowed to reopen. That’s why when exhibitors (from foreign countries) enquired if we have our final cut ready, we were more than happy to partner with them,” says filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar, the producer of Khaali Peeli.
At the time of economic crisis, and theatres being shut in India, foreign circuits can also be “an additional monetization route.” As exhibitor-distribitor Akshaye Rathi puts it: “It goes without saying that with no theatrical income coming in (from India), it’s an easy, readymade source of revenue for filmmakers. And why not? Also, remember not every OTT platform is available across the globe. So, for them, releasing their (acquired) films in those regions is an obvious, logical decision.”
Money-wise, Dil Bechara that opened in New Zealand and Fiji last month, apparently made NZ$ 48,436 (Rs 2.35 million) and FJ$ 33,864 (Rs 1.16 million) respectively, in the opening weekend. Reportedly, when films such as Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Street Dancer 3D, Simmba and Kedarnath released in New Zealand, in July, they made just $8,000, $5,000, $7,000 and $3,000 respectively, in their opening weekends.
“Traditionally, overseas markets such as the US, UK and UAE have been the biggest ones vis-a-vis Hindi films’ revenues. So, that way, it’d be interesting to see how Bollywood films perform in other foreign countries (where Hindi films are releasing now),” says trade analyst Taran Adarsh, adding: “However, at the time of financial uncertainty, no one would mind some extra bucks.”
Normalcy over profit
Experts believe that wherever cinemas are reopening, distributors-theatre owners “desperately require fresh content”. And although most of the ready films have already gone to OTT platforms, analysts say the exhibition sector is in “urgent need” for new content to kickstart films-audiences-theatres cycle again. That’s why, insiders feel, theatre owners “may be fine with not making huge profits at this stage.”
Interestingly, during the lockdown period, other already-released films such as Golmaal 4, Saand Ki Aankh, Super 30 and Simmba released in various overseas markets such as the US, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand etc. Insiders feel it’s “not the time to think only about earning money”, but to “stand by theatres that need “fresh, quality content to draw people back” into cinema halls after the Covid-19 scare.
Talking of content, as theatres get ready to reopen in the country, can a simultaneous release of new Hindi movies — on OTT sites as well as theatres — be a reality in India? “That would totally depend on the collective decision of all the players involved, including multiplex association and OTT sites etc.,” says Rathi, adding: “But never say never, as it’s a constantly evolving situation. So, there may be newer, interesting developments in the coming days.”
Restarting all over again!
As a part of Unlock 5.0 plans, the Ministry of Home Affairs had greenlighted the reopening of theatres from October 15 onwards. But the announcement got a muted response from the industry players as several state governments such as Maharashtra and Delhi decided to keep cinemas shut. The two states contribute about 50% of the box office revenues to a Hindi movie. Now, as the Delhi government allows theatres to reopen from October 15 onwards, insiders are hopeful other states will join the bandwagon soon. “Every state may take their own time but eventually, all of them will come around,” says producer Ramesh Taurani.