The New Age Indian Cinema
Updated: Sep 6, 2020
The sublime whiff of butter in the air, popcorn kernels popping at the distance, the filter machine pouring out iced beverages, doesn’t the feeling of entering into a cinema seem like an eternity ago? The thrill of a new release coupled with a large bucket of popcorn bringing the characters on the big screen to life, a screen which employs more than 7 lakh Indians. Just like us mortals, this $183 billion industry too could not escape from the repercussions of Covid-19. One nation-wide announcement by the Prime Minister of India on the 24th of March made all the theaters shut down, employees sent home and upcoming movies forced to be shelved. Movies that were worked on for years, all delayed until this becomes ‘the new normal’.
It commenced with a decision made by the Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees (FWICE), Indian Motion Pictures Producers' Association (IMPPA) and Indian Film & Television Directors' Association (IFTDA) on the 15th of March to halt all the shooting of entertainment products for a mere 15 days due to the virus and the industry has since gone down a deep ditch, still struggling to find a way out of it. In just the first quarter of 2020, a dozen movies with over ₹100 cr. estimated net collection each were to be released, and a multitude others were being shot and prepared to be released later this year. These halted projects can make a dent of approximately ₹30 billion on the film industry. All these projects, which took assiduous planning, have been halted but a few which were able to complete the shooting before the lock down are now skipping the theatrical window run and are directly being released on some OTT platforms like Disney+ Hotstar and Netflix. This is a blessing in disguise for these platforms as they saw a 65% increase in subscription between mid-March to mid-April.
Starting with the unexpected postponement of Reliance Entertainment’s Sooryavanshi just 12 days before its official release date, Covid-19 has since had a disrupting impact on the film industry. It saw a revenue fall of approximately 54.5% in the first quarter of 2020 with the collection of ₹1325.33 cr., as compared to ₹10000 cr. in the same quarter of 2019.
This boon for the digital streaming platforms is an enormous bane for the multiplexes in the country. A report in 2019 stated that there were nearly 3000 multiplexes in India with an annual revenue of nearly ₹142 billion, which was predicted to rise to ₹152 billion in 2020. However, a lock outside these multiplexes since the last four months has completely reversed the situation. India, having one of biggest film industries, in 2018 alone, released over 1,800 digital feature films across the country. In comparison, the United States produced just over 500 films that year. The entire Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) Industry, estimated at ₹1260 billion, contributes to approximately 1% of the Nation’s GDP, which is now undergoing a devastating fall.
With the street chatter of reopening of socially distanced and sanitized cinemas in the next phase of unlock, the entire industry is sitting on the edge of their seats. However, uncertainty still looms over the release of various films in these multiplexes in the near future. On the 17th of July, Netflix announced 17 new titles in India to be released over the next two years. This ₹3000 crore investment would have a huge impact in altering the century old traditional way of viewing for the audience as these titles contain films and shows starring the top names of the big screen. Moreover, a recent survey by LocalCircles has concluded that only 6% of the population is willing to go to cinema halls in the next month. This includes paperless tickets, seat distancing, staggered intervals and scrupulous sanitizing, still only a handful of people are willing to revisit the cinemas.
Although the shooting of films and TV shows have now recommenced with a restrictive guideline, the theaters still continue to be shut. The longer this situation persists, the greater level of a shift from theaters to OTT occurs. With the higher comfort and affordability, the OTT divisions in India, which are currently secured at $0.5 billion are expected to rise approximately 900% to $5 billion by 2023. This backs up a view that these platforms are not just temporary resorts for the viewers, but rather they are engraving a permanent mark in the Indian film industry.
Being the largest producer of films in the world, the Indian economy could suffer tremendously with this sudden and unexpected move. From employee cutbacks to shutting down theaters altogether, large multiplex chains will have to take severe steps to cut down costs and stay in business. Cinema halls take up huge spaces and if they start shutting down, the real estate sector will be strongly affected as well. However, as the OTT platforms penetrate further into the economy, the IT sector could increase employment.
Hence, one of the most traditional and unchanged experiences of viewing movies is now facing a sudden and unexpected move which is gradually changing the entire Bollywood industry. What is now proving to be an unanticipated blessing for the OTT platforms, is making the multiplexes bleed, without receiving a gauze in the near future.