With ‘Tuck Jagadish’ and ‘Maestro’ taking the digital route, the OTT Vs. theatre tussle continues

Small and medium budget Telugu films are lining up for theatrical release, while many big budget and star-led films have either deferred their release to 2022 or are considering digital premieres

Finalising the theatrical release dates or the streaming dates for digital platforms for new Telugu films is like playing musical chairs. Dates are announced and then subsequently reworked owing to multiple factors — like competing films, potential for revenue from the US markets and other States within India and the ticket price restrictions in Andhra Pradesh. A few small and medium budget films such as Raja Raja Chora, Sridevi Soda Centre, Thimmarusu, S R Kalyanamandapam and Paagal managed to get noticed, but a blockbuster like Uppena or Jaathi Rathnalu is proving to be elusive after the theatres reopened on July 30, following the second wave of COVID-19.

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Where are the star films?

Naga Chaitanya and Sai Pallavi in ‘Love Story’
 

Trade circles had pinned their hopes on director Shiva Nirvana’s Tuck Jagadish starring Nani, Ritu Varma and Aishwarya Rajesh and director Shekhar Kammula’s Love Story starring Naga Chaitanya and Sai Pallavi, which were scheduled to release in summer.

Love Story had announced its theatrical release date as September 10, eyeing the Ganesh Chaturthi weekend. However, with the producers of Tuck Jagadish opting for digital release (Amazon Prime Video) on September 10, the makers of Love Story are now looking for a new release date, citing “unavoidable reasons” in a press statement.

Director Sampath Nandi’s Seetimaarr starring Gopichand and Tamannaah, which had earlier announced September 3 as its release date, will now arrive on September 10 for the festive weekend.

OTT Vs. theatres

The OTT Vs. theatres debate reached a crescendo when the producers of Tuck Jagadish opted for a digital release. Actor Nani, who had batted for a theatrical release, said in a statement that he was torn between his interest to see his film in theatres and the pressures faced by his producers, given the uncertainties such as restrictions in theatres in Andhra Pradesh and overseas. He added that he will abide by the producers’ decision.

The film calendar

  • September 3: Dear Megha, 101 Jillala Andagadu
  • September 10: Tuck Jagadish (Amazon Prime Video), NET (Zee5) and Seetimaarr
  • September 17: Maestro (Disney+ Hotstar)
  • October 1: Republic
  • October 8: Kondapolam, Most Eligible Bachelor
  • October 14: Mahasamudram
  • Love Story (to be announced)

A few other producers and exhibitors were quick to criticise the decision to take the digital route, but the producers Sahu Garapati and Harish Peddi of Shine Screens stated, “The film was completed in December last year (2020). We planned to release it for summer but the second wave of Covid-19 made things difficult. Even after the second wave, things continued to be uncertain due to various issues not being under control. Moreover, it is not easy to safeguard content for so long in this digital era. With a lot of ambiguity about when things will return to normal, we approached Nani and convinced him for a non-theatrical release.”

Lukewarm response to theatres

When theatres opened after the first wave of COVID-19 in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in late December 2020, a festive atmosphere prevailed. Footfalls gradually picked up during Sankranti 2021 and the success of Uppena and Jaathi Rathnalu in February and March brought cheer. Pawan Kalyan-starrer Vakeel Saab, which released in April when the second wave was well underway, also witnessed packed halls.

However, the audience response to films that have released in theatres after the second wave has been comparatively lukewarm. The fear of an impending third wave and the lack of star-led films are cited as reasons.

While Telangana permits 100% seating in cinema halls, theatres in Andhra Pradesh allow 50% seating and the ticket slabs are fixed by the State government. According to GO MS No. 35 dated April 8, 2021, ticket prices have been fixed based on location and amenities offered. In rural areas, the tickets are priced as low as ₹5 to ₹25.

This pricing in rural areas has been cited as restrictive by film exhibitors, producers and distributors. Industry insiders state it’s tough for big budget films to recover their costs. Also, theatres in other States in India have just begun to open up.

Direct digital release

Nithiin and Nabha Natesh in ‘Maestro’

Nithiin and Nabha Natesh in ‘Maestro’
 

Though a few producers and distributors feel that star-led films will woo the audiences back to theatres, others aren’t keen on taking the risk.

Venkatesh-starrer Narappa was the first to opt for digital premiere after the second wave. On the heels of Tuck Jagadish, the Telugu remake of Andhadhun titled Maestro, directed by Merlapaka Gandhi and starring Nithiin, Tamannaah Bhatia and Nabha Natesh, is scheduled to premiere on Disney+ Hotstar on September 17.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Virata Parvam directed by Venu Udugula and starring Rana Daggubati and Sai Pallavi, to see if the producers will go for a theatrical or digital release.

Eyeing 2022

Ram Charan and NTR in ‘RRR’

Ram Charan and NTR in ‘RRR’
 

Big films such as Acharya (directed by Koratala Siva and starring Chiranjeevi), Bheemla Nayak (directed by Saagar Chandra and starring Pawan Kalyan and Rana Daggubati), Radhe Shyam (directed by Radha Krishna Kumar and starring Prabhas and Pooja Hegde) have deferred their theatrical release to 2022. Pushpa – the rise (directed by Sukumar and starring Allu Arjun, Fahadh Faasil and Rashmika Mandanna) is scheduled for Christmas 2021 release.

Meanwhile, SS Rajamouli’s pan-Indian film RRR which was scheduled to arrive in theatres during Dasara 2021, is also looking at 2022. The vacuum left by RRR has made a few other films plan their release dates in October 2021, notably director Krish’s Kondapolam starring Panja Vaisshnav Tej and Rakul Preet Singh, director Bhaskar’s Most Eligible Bachelor starring Akhil Akkineni and Pooja Hegde, director Devakatta’s Republic starring Sai Dharam Tej, and director Ajay Bhupathi’s Maha Samudram starring Siddharth and Sharwanand.

The film industry hopes that the impending third wave wouldn’t further dent the enthusiasm of the audiences to return to theatres and by 2022, and that life will be back to normal.

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