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Vidya Balan in 'Shakuntala Devi' Image Credit: Amazon Prime

Bollywood film exhibitors and theatre owners in India are resisting the trend of films such as Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana’s ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ or Vidya Balan’s ‘Shakuntala Devi’ releasing directly on streaming platforms, foregoing a traditional cinematic release route.

But heavyweights in the UAE are adopting a more pragmatic approach towards movies releasing first on digital platforms. The industry is in survival mode, they admit.

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Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan in Gulabo Sitabo Image Credit: Supplied

“Let’s look at the bigger picture here. Big movies with big stars and budgets are still waiting for their release in cinemas alone. It’s the smaller films backed by producers who cannot afford to wait for months for a release window who are looking at digital platforms,” said Ahmad Golchin, distributor and exhibitor of films in the UAE.

The founder and chairman of Phars Films, who is credited as the founding father of cinema distribution in the UAE, believes that we are living in unprecedented and uncertain times due to the coronavirus pandemic that led to cinemas shutting down for public safety.

As of this week, cinemas in the UAE are open for business and a silver lining has emerged. But according to reports, Bollywood has bled more than $1 billion (Dh3.7 billion) due to the closure of cinemas globally and the halt of film productions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Ahmad Golchin Image Credit: GN Archives

“There will be a huge traffic of big films once the cinemas open in full swing. There won’t be space for small films. The OTT [Over The Top or streaming] platforms are not a big threat to us at all,” said Golchin, who has big films in the pipeline, including the upcoming James Bond film ‘No Time To Die’.

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Arun Rangachari Image Credit: GN Archives

UAE-based producer Arun Rangachari of Dar Motion Pictures, who has produced films such as ‘D-Day’ and ‘The Lunchbox’, has adopted a similar stand.

“Every production is a financial transaction and producers take advances and borrow money to produce a film. The debt is something they have to deal with and what they do with their film will be what makes financial sense to them. While I can feel the pain of exhibitors in India who believe that the producers are not supporting them, the ground reality remains that some producers have no choice,” said Rangachari. It’s all about economics and not emotions, he adds.


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Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani during the Laxmmi Bomb shoot in Dubai Image Credit: GN Archives

Nearly a dozen Bollywood and South Indian films in total will release on streaming platforms directly in the next few months.

Even a superstar and a box office draw like Akshay Kumar is seriously contemplating releasing new film ‘Laxmmi Bomb’ online first.

While it isn’t an ideal scenario, Rangachari believes that the straight to digital release might help in clearing the backlog of films that are queuing up for release once the coronavirus threat abates.

Sooryavanshi Image Credit: Supplied

Due to the pandemic, several big-budget films such as director Rohit Shetty’s star-studded cop drama ‘Sooryavanshi’ and Ranveer Singh’s cricketing biopic ‘83’ were put on hold indefinitely.

“Realistically speaking, it will take us a few months to take care of the backlog of movies alone. We also don’t know what the contours of cinema and habits of cinema goers will be … What will be the pattern of cinema watching be like once the cinemas open are some of the big questions,” added Rangachari.

Anish Wadhwa, local distributor and founder of Home Screen Entertainment and Simply South — a digital platform for South Indian films in the UAE, believes that releasing films straight to digital platforms was borne out of necessity. The show must go on.

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Anish Wadhwa Image Credit: Supplied

“For the current scenario, it is fine. It’s about survival. After all, a producer borrows money to make films and there’s a lot of money at stake. But post-COVID, it’s only fair that movies will release in cinemas because movies are supposed to be watched and enjoyed on big screens. I personally feel that movies are made for the cinemas and a good ending is possible if we wait when it comes to big films,” said Wadhwa, who had six big films set for release in March and April.

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Ranveer Singh in 83 Image Credit: Supplied

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, his big-ticket films scheduled for release in the UAE such as ‘Sooryavanshi’ (March 24 release) and ‘83’ (April 10 release) were postponed indefinitely. He also has Fahadh Faasil and Vijay’s projects that are ready to be rolled out into cinemas.

“But one thing is certain,” Wadhwa said, “I prefer to release these films only on the big screen but it is a producer's call eventually.”