Salman Khan starrer Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai will hit the theaters and ZEE5’s pay per view platform ZeePlex simultaneously on May 13.

Salman Khan starrer Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai is the first big-ticket Bollywood film to adopt a hybrid release model. The film will hit the theatres and ZEE5’s pay per view platform ZeePlex simultaneously on May 13. Film trade analysts believe the move will be a “gamechanger” for the Indian cinema business and will affect mostly the film exhibitors who are already incurring losses due to lockdowns and shut down of cinema halls.

Film producer and trade analyst Girish Johar believes the release of Radhe on the OTT platform and in cinemas at the same time has affected the exhibitors and the film producers differently. “Film exhibitors are most hurt by this decision. They were waiting for so many months for some big films to release, Radhe being one of them. They are under immense pressure and Radhe was true oxygen for them. They were thinking it will help their ailing business because the audience would come back to the theatres. Salman (Khan) is a pan India star and exhibitors were banking on him,” Johar suggested.

Johar also believes that the move might result in the “weakening of the exhibition sector from top to bottom.” But if looked at from the perspective of a film producer, “If the producer cannot sustain, he has all the right to look at the other options,” Girish Johar said, adding, “If the cinema continues to be under the pressure of pandemic, more producers will take the route.”

Nitin Datar, president of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, agrees that the film producers have also invested a huge sum of money and they too need returns with uncertainty looming on the future of cinema. However, he also hinted at the possibility of multiplex owners not screening the direct-to-OTT releases when the situation improves.

“Now it is to be seen if cinema owners will allow these OTT films to release in their cinema halls when things get a little better. To my knowledge, multiplexes are not going to cooperate with the producers in this matter. Some small cinema owners will allow it because they are desperate. But will that help them survive? No. Cinema owners have to give away 60-70% of their profits to producers and distributors, what will they be left with?” Datar rued.

According to Datar, the release of one big film on the OTT platform doesn’t affect the cinema business as “the cinema business is like a white elephant. It needs at least a film per week to survive.”

While expecting more films to release at this time would be “foolish”, Datar assumes what can save the cinema owners is “a robust plan from the government”. They have already asked the government for a rebate in the property tax and cutting down the electricity bills till the time businesses reopen.

Akshaye Rathi, a film exhibitor and distributor with operations spread across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, feels these are the “exceptional times” hence the producers, distributors and exhibitors need to stick together.

Talking to, he said, “We realise these are exceptional times, any producer or studio who has made a big investment would want their returns to start coming in soon enough. It is understandable in some sense, but of course, as exhibitors we are unhappy. A Salman Khan Film has the potential to bring life back into cinemas. So, it is unfortunate and is a loss for all the exhibitors. Radhe would have helped in our revival and now it wouldn’t, but I think they are also doing it to survive.”

Given the uncertainty around the revenues of the films and functioning of the theatres, Rathi believes that producers and exhibitors and distributors should compromise, “but, in the long term this is a solution that would not be entertained by any exhibitor in the country.”

Also, Girish Johar suggests it is a little too early for the Indian cinema to adopt a hybrid release model. “India is already an under-screened country. We have lost many screens last year also. For now, the hybrid release model will curtail the growth of the cinema business in the country,” Johar opined.

Radhe will arrive in theatres in India where they are operational on the occasion of Eid. It will also release in 40 countries across West Asia, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Europe and the UK.

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