The waiting game is over. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic keeping theatres shut across the country, Indian movies have decided to release directly on streaming services. The Jyothika-starrer Tamil-language courtroom drama Ponmagal Vandhal — originally slated for a March 27 release in cinemas — is the first film to do so, having reportedly sold itself to Amazon Prime Video for an early May debut. And Akshay Kumar might follow in its footsteps. His next film, the Hindi-language horror comedy Laxmmi Bomb — slotted for a May 22 premiere in theatres — is reportedly in talks with Disney+ Hotstar.
Late on Friday, streaming aggregator LetsOTT claimed that Amazon had bought the streaming rights for Ponmagal Vandhal and would release it on Prime Video in the first week of May. Ponmagal Vandhal director J.J. Fredrick confirmed that the film was headed to streaming, though he didn’t comment on the platform or release date. Gadgets 360 has reached out to Amazon for comment and we will update this piece if we hear back.
This hasn’t gone down well with the cinema operators, with the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association threatening to blacklist producers — in this case, Suriya — who choose to skip theatres for a straight-to-streaming. Fredrick defended their decision and said: “This is my first film and all of us wanted to release the movie on the big screen. But with no options left, we’ve decided to release [Ponmagal Vandhal] on a streaming platform. Even if the situation is brought under control, it will take a few more months for theatres to open. And a slew of films [are] lined up for release.”
Early on Saturday, the daily Mid-Day said that a person familiar with the matter had revealed that Laxmmi Bomb actor-producer Kumar and director Raghava Lawrence were “discussing” the Disney+ Hotstar offer. Gadgets 360 has reached out to Disney+ Hotstar for comment and we will update this piece if we hear back. This might be a case of Disney sending one of its movies to streaming, as with Artemis Fowl. Laxmmi Bomb is a Fox Star Studios film, owned by Disney and operated by Star India.
For now, Laxmmi Bomb is deep into post-production, which is “taking longer than usual” due to everyone working from home amid the nationwide lockdown. It’ll be ready by June, thereby missing its original May 22 release date. Mid-Day adds that though Kumar is considering straight-to-streaming for Laxmmi Bomb to help offset any losses for those involved, he’s also concerned about getting the film to small towns, beyond the Internet-heavy online payment-friendly urban markets that have easy access to services such as Disney+ Hotstar.
Indian film industries aren’t the first to consider skipping theatres for an online release. Hollywood is already a step ahead, with the DreamWorks Animation title Trolls World Tour the first to do so earlier in April. (Trolls World Tour is not available in India.) Warner Bros.’ own animated family movie Scoob! will follow it in mid-May. A few other smaller films have opted to do the same.
Hollywood has largely opted for a rental model though, with Disney’s Artemis Fowl and Paramount Pictures’ Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae-starrer The Lovebirds being the select few titles going straight to streaming: they arrive June 12 on Disney+ Hotstar and May 22 on Netflix, respectively. But India doesn’t have an established video-on-demand (Google Play, iTunes) market, which is why streaming is the preferred route here.
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