Jyotika's Ponmagal Vandhal all set to get a direct OTT release; stakeholders discuss the pros and cons
Theatre owners, already sore from the losses inflicted by the lockdown, have not taken kindly to this decision by Suriya and co
It has been nearly six weeks since the state went into a precautionary lockdown to flatten the coronavirus outbreak. With theatres shutting down indefinitely, several films, including those of stars like Vijay and Suriya, which had been scheduled for the summer, have had their release postponed. The audience however has begun drawing its dose of entertainment content from OTT platforms.
In this backdrop, it has been announced that Ponmagal Vandhal, starring Jyotika and produced by Suriya's 2D Entertainment, will get a direct OTT release. The film had originally targetted a theatre release on March 27. The streaming rights of this thriller, by debutant director JJ Fredrick, have reportedly been bagged by Amazon Prime Video for an amount of 5 crores, with the film set to be made available on the platform from the first week of May.
Theatre owners, already sore from the losses inflicted by the lockdown, have not taken kindly to this decision. The general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ Association, R Panneerselvam released a video on Saturday, condemning the production house's "hasty" decision and stressed that films made for theatrical release, as a policy, must never opt for digital releases. Panneerselvam claimed that the makers refused to change their decision, despite a request from the association. He also threatened to never allow a theatre release of any film involving Suriya, and his production house. "They can release all their projects on OTT platforrms. Our theatres won’t need their films anymore," he said, in the video. Rajasekar Pandian, one of the CEOs of Suriya's 2D Entertainment, declined to comment on the issue, preferring to wait for an official statement from the Tamil Nadu Film Producers' Council (TFPC).
Tiruppur Subramaniam, the president of the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners’ Association, calls for clear regulations that determine the release platform of a film being made. "Ponmagal Vandhal, as we all know, was made and planned for a release in theatres. It is only ethical that they consult our association before signing such a major deal . This last-minute decision will have a permanent effect on the entire business model. Let’s not forget that most production houses take advances, even during the production process, from Qube and other stakeholders in the theatre screening business," he says. Commenting on the secretary's statement regarding a ban on films concerning Suriya, Jyotika, and 2D Entertainment, Subramaniam takes great pains to express that any decision can only be taken, at a general body meeting held after theatres are allowed to open again.
G Dhananjayan, producer, distributor, and member of TFPC, doesn’t make much of these instinctive rebukes from theatre owners. "There's a lot riding on this decision taken by 2D Entertainment, and I personally think it's a smart move. I don’t see theatres opening before July or August. Faced with a potential delay of six-seven months, it’s only logical for a producer to opt for such a move.”
Dhananjayan believes that cold logic has dictated this decision of the Ponmagal Vandhal makers. "I hear that this film was made on a budget of around 8 crores. Such women-centric dramas in this budget spectrum, with very few exceptions, usually make about 10 crores, with a 2-3 crore share for the producers. With both OTT and satellite channels looking out for brand new content from regional industries, it only makes sense for the production house to capitalise on this demand, especially if 5 crore is being offered for the rights. Also, as it’s a non-exclusive agreement, the remainder of the investment can be recovered from TV rights and foreign OTT rights. I see this as a pioneering attempt, as all that matters for a producer is to avoid a big loss, and move on to the next project," he says.
There’s also the utility in theatres getting freed up for other pending releases. "We have almost 40 films in queue, with at least 10 more set to add to this pile in the coming weeks. If all of them vied for a theatre release after the lockdown ends, we are looking at almost 10-12 releases every week. Is the audience ready for that? I don't think theatre owners have thought through these nuances," he says.
The producer believes that the only real solution is to let only films featuring the biggest stars get a release first. "We need to bring out films that will bring the audience back to theatres. If such star vehicles opt for a direct digital release, I get the outrage. But this anger directed at a well-thought out decision by Suriya and co, whose film was planned as a limited release in 150 odd screens, is counter-productive for the industry," he says.
Dhananjayan also reveals that the TFPC will come out with an official statement soon. "At the end of the day, the producer owns the film. He has the prerogative and the rights to decide the fate of his product. No one can be allowed to interfere," he argues.
Ruban Mathivanan, the owner of GK cinemas, Porur, has a counter-argument. “Theatre owners are then free to choose whatever films we want for screening. Will Amazon be ready to purchase the rights of a smaller film, that does not feature a bankable star? If you are interested in an OTT release, share this information when the project is announced. You shouldn’t be opting for it as a means of damage control. It affects other parties. There should be stricter guidelines regarding this," he says.
With producers and theatre owners still divided over this issue, it is to be seen whether this unprecedented situation changes the scene decisively.