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Filmmakers’ hopes dashed again as second Covid wave runs rampant

Makers of Farhan Akthar's Toofan postponed the release of the movie

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KERALA: The Indian film industry was beginning to show signs of a feeble revival early this year. As restrictions eased and Covid cases declined, people began returning to the theatres to relive the cinematic experience. The relief, however, did not last long. Now, with the second wave of Covid2019 showing no signs of abating, the industry’s future is in jeopardy yet again.

India has recorded a record 4.01 lakh new cases of Covid in the last 24 hours and lost over 4,194 people who were battling with its complications. The deteriorating situation has compelled filmmakers to reconsider the release of their projects. Some have taken the streaming route, but even that faced hurdles, as the situation continued to worsen, impacting viewership across all mediums.

Filmmakers put brakes on new releases

The makers of Farhan Akhtar-starred Toofan have postponed the release of the movie due to the surge in Covid cases. The film was slated to release on Amazon Prime Video on 21 May. In a statement shared on social media, Akhtar said the current focus is only on the pandemic.

"The situation in India is truly heart-breaking… In light of the severity of the situation, our focus is completely on the pandemic and on supporting our employees, their families, and helping the wider community. Therefore, we have decided to postpone the release of our film Toofan until the situation improves," he tweeted. 

Makers of Telugu flick Khiladi, which stars Mass Maharaja Ravi Teja in the lead role, have also decided to defer its theatrical outing. The movie was initially scheduled to come to cinemas on 28 May; a new date of release is yet to be announced.

Wait for theatrical releases gets longer

According to the latest updates, Marakkar: Arabikkadalinte Simham (which bagged the Best Feature Film honour at the 67th National Film Awards) is scheduled to hit the screens on 12 August 2021. The film was slated for a 23 March release but was postponed to 13 May due to the first phase of the Covid outbreak. As the marauding virus showed no signs of slowing down, the makers again pushed back the release to 12 August. With a third wave imminent, the August release could also get impacted. If the situation persists, producers may look for other options like direct OTT releases or hybrid releases as the content will get outdated. 

"Even though it is too early to comment, current developments indicate that theatres in the country will not open in June or July, especially because vaccination is progressing slowly, and the number of fresh cases is rising phenomenally. Not just Maharashtra, most of the states are witnessing a sudden surge in cases," said Elara Capital vice president and research analyst (media and consumer discretionary) Karan Taurani. 

A potential third wave?

As India struggles to combat the second wave, the government has issued warnings for a potential third wave that could hit the country later this year. According to principal scientific advisor to the PM Dr KV Vijay Raghavan, the third wave of Covid is inevitable. “The next outbreak could turn deadlier and it is not clear on what timescale this phase 3 will occur,” he added. “Hopefully, incrementally, but we should prepare for new waves. New variants will arise all over the world and in India too.”

The dire warning comes at a time when the pandemic has already taken a toll on the Indian film industry. Following the Coronavirus outbreak, several production houses postponed the releases of their films, while some of them opted for OTT premieres. Although some Bollywood movies like Mumbai Saga and Roohi got a theatrical showing earlier this year, they failed to make an impact at the box office. 

Will Radhe light the way ahead?

Radhe is the first Indian movie that is set to get a hybrid release this May. The Salman Khan-starrer will hit theatres on 13 May and simultaneously premiere on Zee5 and Zee Plex as a pay-per-view. If the Covid situation persists in the country for long, several big-budget movies are likely to follow in Radhe’s footsteps. 

"Considering the current trend, makers of big-budget movies like Sooryavanshi may not hold the movies for a long time. They may prefer an OTT release or hybrid release. The second wave might go quickly, we do not know," opined Karan. 

Given this uncertainty, most big-ticket, mass market films, both Bollywood and regional, have vanished from the upcoming release slate. Depending on how Radhe performs at the box office despite strict restrictions in several states and the success of the pay-per-view showing, which is yet to take off in India, hybrid release may be a ray of hope to industry stakeholders.

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