'Gulabo Sitabo' on Amazon

·4-min read
Gulabo Sitabo

Ever since the nation-wide lockdown was announced a few months ago, the industry was abuzz with rumours about the fate of big-budget films that were ready for release. Between the options of postponing films until things became okay, the speculation whether some of these films could premiere directly on streaming platforms became to gina momentum. In this aspect, the spotlight was squarely on Sooryavanshi and 83 that featured Akshay Kumar and Ranveer Singh respectively. In the middle, there was also some speculation about another Akshay Kumar starrer, Lakshmi Bomb, releasing directly on Disney+ and Hotstar in June. The news of Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo that features Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana and is written by Juhi Chaturvedi that would be available on 12 June on Amazon Prime Video is nothing less than a game-changer.

As expected, the reaction to Gulabo Sitabo becoming the first A-list Hindi film to premiere on an OTT platform from across most quarters has been mixed. While the viewer would be thrilled at the opportunity of getting to see a brand new film ‘dropped’ directly in the comfort of their living room, the theatre owners are disappointed. Some of them have called the development a ’mistake’, while the multiplex chain INOX expressed “extreme displeasure and disappointment”, and said that it will take “retributive measures in dealing with such fair-weather friends.”

Right now, streaming platforms would be eager to get films packed with prestigious names on their roster. This has gained greater importance in the times of the lockdown where the viewing habits of people has undergone a further transformation. For a few years since the arrival of the OTT platforms, the average viewer has changed the way they consumed entertainment and while producers had updated themselves to some extent, theatres were still working on the old model. Perhaps this is why Sircar’s decision has invited such backlash from the movie theatre owners. In other words, the theatres would be on the edge because Sircar’s decision to skip a theatrical run is all set to usher in a new era in cinema viewing.

Up until now, there would an almost two-month-long delay between the theatrical and digital release of a Hindi film. A day after announcing the premiere of Gulabo Sitabo, Amazon Prime released a list of additional six films in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam that would debut directly on its streaming service, a move that only makes things worse for theatre owners. The decision by Tamil superstar and producer Suriya to digitally release Ponmagal Vandhal that features his wife, Jyothika, also invited a backlash against the actor. Theatre and multiplex owners threatened to block all future releases featuring Suriya if the actor went ahead. Amongst the big releases that have decided to weather the storm out, Kabir Khan’s 83 that chronicles India’s historic win at the 1983 cricket World Cup in England will now release in January 2021. Khan is believed to have opted to wait for a theatrical release even though he’s been said to have been offered a whopping amount for a digital premiere of the film.

With the Coronavirus Pandemic now being a regular part of life, the film industry needed to re-look at its mechanism and this is the first step. In some way, what platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and the ilk are doing is similar to what the advent of the multiplex chain did to single screen theatre. There were times when multiplex chains forced producers to agree to a certain price, and there were times when powerful producers forced their diktats upon the cinema owners. If the audience pushed the producers to change with the times by choosing OTT content over their films, it’s the producers now who seem to be calling the shots with the theatre owners.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that had things been normal, Gulabo Sitabo’s producers Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar wouldn’t have been forced to think out of the box. The world as we knew is now changed and in the ‘post’ Coronavirus world, the way a movie is exhibited at a cinema hall would have to change as well. How things have played out, can be best summed by a line from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein - Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.

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