More and more filmmakers are looking at the digital medium as their new go-to platform, but the Hindi film industry is not worried.
The digital world may present new challenges but it is not a threat to films released in cinema halls, industry people say, stressing that the two mediums can coexist.
Superstar Shah Rukh Khan, one of the first stars from Bollywood to warm up to the digital medium, believes that though the times have changed and the younger generation prefers catching films or shows on their personal devices, a big screen has its own draw.
"Now youngsters do not watch stuff on TV; they see it on phone. But I would like to see 'Batman' or Baahubali on the big screen," Khan states.
The 52-year-old actor's Red Chillies Entertainment and streaming service Netflix are working on an original series based on the book "Bard of Blood".
In India, the digital revolution began in 2012 when IIT Kharagpur graduate Arunabh Kumar started producing original and entertaining content on his online digital entertainment channel -- The Viral Fever, popularly known as TVF.
By 2015, TVF had come up with a five-episode web series Pitchers that reportedly garnered a rating of 9.4 out of 10 on IMDb, the global Internet movie database. Pitchers was placed in IMDb's top 250 TV series list alongside popular English shows Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
Soon, Yash Raj Films, India's premiere filmmaking unit, had entered the market through their YouTube channel YFilms with series such as Man's World and Bang Baaja Baraat in 2015 getting an overwhelming response.
But the success of the digital films has not dented the enthusiasm for cinema released in halls, film industry insiders point out. Lakhs of people still like to watch their films in theatres, they stress.
"The digital medium can never replace a date at the movies," says Swara Bhaskar, who has been a part in It's Not That Simple, available exclusively on Voot.
Small budget films such as Kapoor & Sons, Dear Zindagi, Secret Superstar and Neerja sold some 60-70 lakh tickets. Mid-budget films such as Airlift, Judwaa 2 and "Jolly LLB" did business worth Rs 120-130 crore and got footfalls of around 1.10-1.20 crore.
Recent big budget movies starring Salman Khan or Aamir Khan have had over 3 crore footfalls -- Tiger Zinda Hai sold around 3.15 crore tickets, and "Dangal" about 3.74 crore.
The most watched film since 2000 is Baahubali 2: The Conclusion of 2017, which sold around 5.25 crore tickets.
But for many producers, the digital medium is the platform of the future. After the phenomenal success of its two series, YFilms came up with more webseries -- "Love Shots", "Ladies Room" and "Sex Chat with Pappu and Papa" all had several million views.
The year 2017 saw three big names in the sector. Farhan Akhtar's production house Excel Entertainment partnered with Amazon Prime Video for webseries "Inside Edge". Ekta Kapoor went a step ahead and launched an OTT platform called ALTBalaji and Vikram Bhatt has his YouTube channel called VB on the Web.
With a digital release, movie makers have the ability to reach 100 million people as most of the Indian population is online, says Manav Sethi, CMO, ALTBalaji.
"Today bandwidth provided by players like Jio and micro payments enabled by players like PayTM have made it possible for monetization models to stack up for digital releases," he told PTI.
Pointing to the spread of smartphones in India, Sethi stresses that filmmakers are addressing millenials and binge viewers.
"They (young people) like pacey shows like 'Narcos', 'Bose: Dead/Alive', 'The Test Case'. India has started to pay for content that is good quality and exclusive," he says.
While he calls it a structural shift in platforms and content, Sethi also believes that both formats will coexist and continue to grow.
"Those who consider digital a threat are myopic in their vision. India is not a homogeneous market," he adds.
In recent times, more international OTT platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have entered the Indian market.
But the digital players make it clear that they are not aiming for a conflict with theatrical release.
Vijay Subramaniam, Director, Content, Amazon Prime Video India, believe a film's theatrical release is critical and they are not here to "replace" any medium.
"...We support theatrical premieres and work closely with filmmakers as our partners. We are here to support and not replace. Movies that do well at the box office are also some of the most highly watched titles on Prime Video," he says.
The online platforms have opened up new revenue streams for Bollywood's production houses as well.
As Subramaniam points out, many new Bollywood and regional blockbusters premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video within a few weeks after their theatrical release.
Yet, it cannot be denied that with the digital revolution in India, many more people watch content online and footfalls at the cinema houses have reduced.
To top it, directors and producers face problems over a film's release in a theatre because they do not get an adequate number of screens and because of the risk factor that distributors and exhibitors face.
Radhika Apte, the star of Netflix's "Sacred Games", however, does not see the digital space as a threat to cinema because, she says, theatres have their own charm.
"Many projects do not get green-lit as a lot of risk is involved these days with cinema. Content is getting split but I don't think that is bad. However, at the same time, certain films will be seen in theatres only," she told PTI.
Kubbra Sait, who also has a role in Sacred Games, agrees.
"A theatrical release always has an upper hand over a TV release or the digital medium," she says.
If anything is under threat, it is poor cinema, holds R Madhavan, who just had a major success on Amazon Prime Video with Breathe.
"Cinema that doesn't justify being seen on a large screen is definitely under threat," he adds. – Business Standard