End term exams were finally over. My friends and I were in a mellow mood, resting under the tree on the college campus. To escape the worries about the exam results, I closed my eyes and entered my world, trying to think of something to do which would be both relaxing and fun at the same time.
The only thought that crossed my mind was ‘movie theatre’, the feeling of selecting a wide range of exciting movies to watch, getting dressed for the occasion, carpooling with my pals, entering the theatre, sinking into the cushy seats, the lights get dimmed and when the magic began on the 70mm screen with Dolby surround sound filled me with euphoria.
I opened my eyes and said, “friends, we need to go watch a movie”, we all decided on a date and promised we would see each other that day. However, on that evening, a lockdown was announced due to a new virus that started to spread in our country. This meant we would be sitting in our homes all day for the next few days, and the movie plan was flushed down the drain.
Fuelled by the ample free time that I had on my hands now, I went on to think about movies and theatres again, how would I go to the theatre now and enjoy myself with my pals. My dad, who was sitting nearby, asked what I was thinking about. I explained to him my situation, and he was like, “Beta, c’mon, don’t you people have apps these days? Just watch some movie there. I read in the paper they are giving some free trial offer, just download that and let’s watch a movie together at night.”
I was like, sure, why not! While I was at it and browsing a good collection of new and old movies in the app catalogue, a peculiar thought crossed my mind “is this the future of Indian cinema? Will it shift to OTT from theatre?” My eyes still on the OTT app stumbled on an old Avengers movie. I remembered watching the same in a theatre some years ago.
The VFX and 3D experience was stunning. I decided to watch some parts of the movie once again just for nostalgia’s sake. It was not fun; the theatre experience was unparalleled, the app just couldn’t deliver the same experience as the theatre, and I was convinced that OTT would never replace the movie theatre. OTT was just a new fad of the current times, and it would soon collapse after it stopped giving those free trials.
While browsing, I came across another movie named “Rajma Chawal”, it starred Rishi Kapoor; this was a surprise for me as I learned the film was directly released on the OTT platform rather than the theatres. This was not just a single case, but several other good movies performed well who directly released on OTT.
I thought to myself if this is the case, then there definitely is a major shift happening. Questions arose in my mind, and when questions arise, we need immediate answers, which leads us to turn towards the thing possessing all human knowledge which gives answers within milliseconds, and the thing is our beloved “Google”.
While researching, I came across several interesting facts like India being the world’s largest filmmaker releasing 1833 films in a year, that is, 35 films in a week; this meant there was no way every movie would get sufficient or favourable slots in the theatres, now the question was where would all these movies release and earn money.
The answer was right in front of my eyes, OTT; it made a lot of sense for the studios to release it directly to the content-hungry OTT platforms and skip theatres, enabling them to reach the audience and secure revenues.
This was a perfect course of action for small budget movies that faced uncertainty and risk by releasing them in the cinemas. This also led me to realise that cinema release is a costly affair involving huge publicity costs and the need for that star power to pull the audience in the theatres, which led to the suffocation of the indie genre in India. With OTT, a filmmaker can directly cut out these factors and connect to the audience, allowing them to take more significant risks in storyline and casting.
Seeing me so immersed in the research, my dad questioned, “Son, what has got you thinking so much? You still haven’t found a good movie to watch yet?” I explained to him how OTT could possibly take over the theatres in the coming years.
He started to smile and explain how back in his days, there were talks on how VCD and DVD would put an end to theatres, but that didn’t happen both coexisted and thrived in their own space, but now the VCD has been replaced with OTT, and it would also follow the former’s path.
This made a lot of sense to me. Now I could finally put this topic to rest by being assured that theatres are always there to stay as humans are social beings and going to the cinema is not just for watching the movie. Still, it’s a social experience that everyone tends to enjoy and can’t be replicated at home; VCD or DVD never could do it and nor would OTT platforms.
Though OTT platforms would continue to grow tremendously in the coming years, the Indian cinema, especially the big-budget movies, would never leave the theatre screens. My dad, now visibly annoyed by my procrastination, asked me, “Did you find a movie yet?” I knew this is my final cue and had to get on to work immediately.