The show must go on: The show comes home! (Column: B-Town)
<br>Lockdown or no lockdown, the show must go on. The show must go on, the adage goes back a couple of centuries when it was first used. Its origin is credited to many, including Shakespeare. The phrase, having been coined for theatre, went on to be associated films and so many other aspects of life. However, in India and our film industry, the phrase came to be identified more with the late Raj Kapoor. He was dubbed the greatest Showman.
Interval is a part of a show but this once, since the spread of the pandemic of Corona, the show came to a total stop. Cinema halls as well as film and television production activity came to a standstill all over the world. This kind of total closure of the cinema business was not seen even during the World War II, which was the most difficult period for all countries, especially in Europe. Yet, the Corona pandemic made it happen.
When the pandemic seemed to be easing its grip, cinema halls were allowed to open conditionally. They could fill up only a certain percentage of the capacity and had to sanitise the hall after each show. Normally, a hall takes up about 30 minutes to clean up between shows and this sanitising business only added to that chore.
Cinema managements would have been relieved that, at least they were back in business. They may have been back in business but not normal business. Viewers were not willing to risk being closeted in a cinema hall yet with the Corona fear lingering. Also, even if the audience was willing to come, filmmakers were not willing to take the risk of releasing a film under such circumstances. A few irrelevant films lacking face value did open at cinemas hoping to cater to a cinema-starved audience but to no avail. Their collections were pathetic, making one think the cinemas were better off closed than screen such films.
As it turned out, the Over The TOP (OTT) streaming platforms successfully managed to fill the vacuum created by films in cinemas halls. Before the pandemic, a couple of major OTT players like Netflix and Amazon were already in the business in India. Many more followed thereafter.
Not only Indian content, OTT made it possible for people to watch content for all over the world besides making available to viewers the dubbed versions of other Indian languages content. OTT has become like a window to the world of entertainment. Feature films made for big screen have started being premiered on these platforms. However, none of these films had any merit and would have found the going tough if released in cinemas.
So far, the makers of big-bill films were reluctant to risk either a theatrical release in the prevailing situation nor give their films to OTT. These were high budget films, hence necessitating huge returns possible only with the cinema way.
It has been more than a year since the pandemic, and it continues to play havoc with people's lives all over the world. Some high investment films have been awaiting normalcy for release so that they could recoup crores of rupees stuck as dead investment with no immediate realisation in sight.
Just when things looked like normalising, the pandemic has struck again and with more deadly form and velocity. The cinema halls had started the process of partial and conditional resumption of business. Unfortunately, a second lockdown has come into effect. For makers of big films, opting for an alternative medium has become inevitable.
The pay-per-view model seems to be the viable alternative. Just like OTT, you get to watch the film at home with family and friends, yet pay much less than the cost of one ticket -- per view, say, for a price of a popcorn and a cola at a multiplex.
"Radhe" will release on Zeeplex on May 13, on the occasion of Eid. It will be available at a reasonable Rs 249 per view. That way, Salman Khan gets his favourite Eid slot, which his fans always look forward to. There can be no debate on the pricing when you compare it to cinema admission rates or, even otherwise. To Zee's advantage, this reasonable pricing will assure them of high volumes of hits. Time that cinema halls adopted the logic of reasonable pricing.
Zee had earlier released "Khaali Peeli" in this format and priced it at Rs 299, but the film lacked face value to fetch any kind of price for a view. It did not work.
The initial idea was to release "Radhe" simultaneously in cinemas along with Zeeplex. The major multiplex chains were not said to be in favour of this arrangement, wanting exclusive cinema release. Before they could be convinced or an understanding could be reached, the country is now undergoing another lockdown and the cinema halls have been asked to shut down again. So, the Radhe premiere will have to be exclusively on Zeeplex.
Jio management, in the company's last AGM, had promised to bring new films to your home the same day they opened at the cinema halls. That credit now goes to Zee. Considering it is a Salman Khan Film, arriving on Eid is a plus, and to add to that the saving on the share of cinemas and the other costs incurred for a theatrical release, this should work well for Zee.
The show will go on.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)