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Bollywood filmmakers wrestle with multiplex owners over digital release rights

The tussle over the rights of films such as 1921, Tumhari Sulu, and Simran show that theatres are really worried about online platforms eating into their viewership in the first weeks after a film’s release.

bollywood Updated: Jan 19, 2018 19:13 IST
Rishabh Suri
Rishabh Suri
Hindustan Times
Tumhari Sulu,Lipstick under My burkha,Vikram Bhatt
A still from 1921, the release of which was a bone of contention between film producers, multiplexes, and digital platforms.

The expansion of digital platforms for films is creating unprecedented situations for the entertainment industry. Recently, there was news that some multiplexes had refused to screen Vikram Bhatt’s horror film, 1921, since the filmmakers had resisted signing a deal with them — under the deal terms, the producers wouldn’t be able to show their film on digital platforms or TV channels for eight weeks after the cinema release.

What threatened to kill the deal was that the producers of 1921 had already sold the screening rights to a digital platform, which meant that the film could be released online while it was still running in the theatres, causing a drop in ticket sales at the theatres. The situation was resolved only after the filmmakers gave in to the multiplex owners’ demands.

The makers of Simran (starring Kangana Ranaut) had a debate with multiplexes over the film’s digital platform release.

Sounds complicated? That’s because it is. As new technology rises, the old guard is feeling the heat — and deals sometime resemble the mythical Gordian knot. Bollywood trade analyst Atul Mohan says, “This happened with the film Simran (2017), too. The filmmakers had to relent, and give a letter to the theatre owners that they would not release the film anywhere else before a certain amount of time. This is also why Vidya Balan’s Tumhari Sulu got a proper release on time. The multiplex owners, during the time of Simran, had taken an undertaking from T-Series (producer of both the films) that they won’t telecast (or release online) their subsequent films within the first 60 days.”

Mohan cites other 2017 films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha and Hindi Medium, which were released online while they were still running in theatres — both films were successful, but the online release drew a large chunk of the audience away from the theatres. Since both films did much better business than expected, theatre owners now want the exclusivity deal for all films, not just the anticipated blockbusters, “because you never know which film will run”, says the analyst.

Tumhari Sulu (starring Vidya Balan) could release on a digital streaming platform eight weeks after its theatrical release.

Milan Luthria, who produced and directed the 2017 film Baadshaho, explains satellite rights: “A lump sum [of money] changes hands for a finite period of time, after which the rights of your film can be resold. It’s a simple transaction, where broadcast platforms that want your product, pay for it. There’s no fixed percentage or flat amount of money. It depends on the kind of film and the star.”

Luthria adds, “There are all kinds of deals, where you share your revenue with your actor, director, [or] a deal where the producer and studio share the money. The old system, where one man put in money and took all of it after paying everyone their dues, doesn’t exist today. Even the number of people [named as] ‘producer’ or ‘co-producer’ has increased from two to 15! This was never there in the past. No one person wants to risk it, as the scale of business has changed.”

A still from the film Lipstick Under My Burkha, which released online while it was still in the theatres.

Trade analyst Komal Nahta reveals that the system of not allowing a film to release anywhere else within the first, say, 60 days is a recent phenomenon. “It has only gained momentum in the past four-five months,” he says. “The makers of Simran had sold their rights to show the film (on a digital platform) before 60 days had passed, but they had to take back their agreement. The same happened with 1921 — they had to bow down to multiplexes.”

‘The makers of Simran had sold their rights to show the film (on a digital platform) before 60 days had passed, but they had to take back their agreement. The same happened with 1921 — they had to bow down to multiplexes’ — Komal Nahta, film trade analyst

Superstars such as Ajay Devgn, in fact, now prefer to take the satellite rights instead of charging a fixed amount as acting fee, because if the film turns out to be a big success, the deal becomes even sweeter. Ajay holds the satellite rights of Golmaal Again, which amassed a huge figure at the box office in 2017.

Bhushan Kumar, who produced Tumhari Sulu and Simran, says, “If somebody wants Shah Rukh Khan’s or Salman’s or Aamir’s film, which are very big, the producer has the upper hand, as there are many buyers. Now, there’s this kind of a structure being proposed to producers, but it will be the guild’s call. Earlier, there were just satellite rights, but now we have digital platforms as well. We’re having a discussion right now with the theatre owners. However, Tumhari Sulu was released (online) only after a period of eight weeks (following the cinema release).”

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First Published: Jan 19, 2018 19:03 IST