JioFiber to bring new releases to your home through First-Day-First-Show; film fraternity reacts
Filmmakers, producers, distributors and theatre owners react to the announcement of the telecom giant
Reliance Jio recently announced that JioFiber users could gain access to films on the date of their release as part of a First-Day-First-Show plan it plans to roll out by mid-2020 for its premium customers. This has naturally ruffled quite a few feathers, largely those of exhibitors. Both PVR Cinemas and Inox Leisure have issued statements on the matter. Inox pointed out that the present system of an exclusive theatrical window of eight weeks—that is followed internationally—has the approval of producers, distributors, and theatre owners. It further added that the producer, the owner of the film, could choose between theatrical exhibition and any other means of release, but not both at once. PVR, for its part, drew attention to the uniqueness of a theatrical experience, and noted that even in developed markets like USA, China and Europe, theatres co-existed with streaming giants like Netflix. Kannada producer-director Pawan Kumar who’s made cult films like U Turn and Lucia, shared his belief that the whole first-day first-show craze is about people’s love for watching films with friends in theatres. “Such an initiative has been hinted at before but didn’t take off. Producers and distributors will definitely fight this,” he said. Kannada superstar Rakshit Shetty agreed, and pointedly noted that cinema is designed to be watched in theatres, given the amount of effort makers put into, say, designing sound for the theatrical experience.
Some theatre owners didn’t think it would be financially feasible. AR Vinod, the owner of Kochi-based Crown Cinema, is convinced that such an initiative could be too expensive for the consumers to be practical. “Netflix’s penetration is minimal for this reason. Can Jio come up with an attractive price for the common man?” he asked. Ruben, owner of GK Cinemas in Chennai, expressed similar doubts over the financial viability of the model. “A film with a top actor gets sold for Rs. 60 crores. How’s a company ever going to buy films regularly for such amounts?” he asked. Tiruppur Subramaniam, President of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Theatres’ Association, rubbished the whole announcement as a publicity stunt. “Didn’t they promise to sell mobile phones for Rs. 500? People panic each time someone makes such an announcement. Let Jio come up with a working plan first and then we will worry about tackling it,” he said. It is to be noted that Reliance also has a film distribution wing, and it’s conceivable that these films could be made available as part of its FDFS service.
Not everyone is of the opinion that it’s a bad idea though. Narayan Srinivasan, film distributor and former director of Mumbai Film Festival, thought it could be useful for small and medium-budget films, given their challenges in vying with big-budget films for theatre screens. However, he added that such an initiative could sound the death knell for the theatre-going in India. “In contrast, China’s theatre screens have increased from 3,500 screens to 40,000 screens. If this happened, we would have to rethink business strategies.”
Interestingly, Kamal Haasan, who’s constantly been ahead of the curve in filmmaking strategies and techniques, considered releasing Viswaroopam as a digital release a few years ago, but faced stiff opposition from theatre owners. Director-producer-actor Parthiban, whose film, Otha Seruppu, is ready for release, noted this, and added that it’s futile to fight technological advancements. “Filmmakers like me have to come up with novel strategies to figure out solutions.” Telugu director Sudheer Varma, whose Ranarangam is up for release this Friday, observed, with some assurance, that cinema watching in theatres is a habit that cannot be changed so fast. “Films like Saaho are made for the big screen,” he pointed out. “Both experiences are fundamentally different and can co-exist.”