A change of scene in Bollywood with Disney+ Hotstar


The scene is changing at the Bollywood stage, and it might be a start of something big.

Disney+ Hotstar is flexing its arms to the fullest by roping in some the biggest Bollywood stars and names as a part of its streaming service. Although this might not be the end of the theatres, it might very well be a beginning of that end.

The pandemic has definitely worked on Disney’s favor, although the evolution of movie watching is bound to change,

Disney+ Hotstar, after months of speculation and some denial, announced actor Akshay Kumar as a part of a panel in June to announce a huge slate of Bollywood films.

In a bulk deal estimated to be to the tune of $77.48 million, Disney had done the unthinkable. It convinced Hindi cinema’s biggest names including Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Alia Bhatt to part with theatrical box office and the ensuing clout of several thousand screens by selling their films to the platform.

“Movies will always be the first birthright of the theatres. But with the pandemic, we are seeing a situation where we have created this space where more and more audiences can enjoy what we make for them,” Kumar said, slightly reluctant about announcing the direct-to-digital release of his horror comedy Laxmmi Bomb.

Countering him a couple of minutes later was Uday Shankar, president, the Walt Disney Company APAC and chairman, Star and Disney India, who said movies are the birthright of nobody but the audiences.

The covid 19 pandemic has had far reaching impact on every aspect of the film industry in India be it theatrical releases, star compensations, marketing or even shooting. Not all of Bollywood may admit it but the past five months have seen its traditional power structures reach a point of collapse.

With cinemas shut since the middle of March, box office and the ‘mass appeal’ of its biggest stars have effectively turned zero. It is too early to tell the long-term implications of the pandemic and whether things will ever go back to the way they were. But there are a few repercussions staring the industry in the face.

“I think everyone is aware and conscious of current realities and of the fact that every single item (in the production budget) will have to be questioned,” Ajit Andhare, said chief operating officer at Viacom18 Studios.

Further, big investments in productions will mean cutting down on unnecessarily aggressive marketing and promotion. Anything that requires much physical interaction will obviously be done away with and be replaced with digital and social media focused campaigns incorporating influencers, memes and platforms like Facebook and Instagram much more, thereby bringing marketing budgets down by 20-30%.

Media and entertainment industry experts emphasize that covid, in no way, means the end of big-screen experiences and it is only a matter of time before people, locked up at home for months, return to theatres in hordes.

Bollywood is unlikely to return to the eight-week gap between theatrical and digital premiere of movies even after cinema operations resume. It could soon be common to have a film available on a streaming platform within three to four weeks of its big screen debut. For years, theatre chains have called the shots when it came to the satellite and digital premiere of films.