Covid-19 or no Covid-19, the show must go on – that seems to be the message with the slate of releases scheduled for the coming weeks.
Despite a key market, Maharashtra, holding back on re-opening cinemas, The Suicide Squad will be released on August 5 across the other states, where movie halls have opened at half capacity. These include Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Puducherry. Also aiming for an August 5 release in North India is a Punjabi film called Tunka Tunka.
The flow of releases began on July 30 in a small way with the Hollywood film Mortal Kombat and five Telugu films. There are an estimated 3,500-odd screens across India, with approximately 500 of these in Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa are the other states that have not yet permitted theatres to resume.
On August 6, the Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard will be out across the country. The Telugu productions SR Kalyanamandapam and Ippudu Kakapothe Inkepeddu will also be released on August 6 in limited territories.
August 13 will see a slew of Hollywood releases across India: Old, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and The Croods: A New Age. The Japanese-language movie spin-off of the popular Demon Slayer anime series is also targeting an August 13 release.
At least two Hindi films that might have been released in cinemas in non-pandemic times are being released directly on streaming services in this period: the patriotic dramas Shershaah (Amazon Prime Video) and Bhuj: The Pride of India (Disney+ Hotstar).
The debate about theatrical distribution versus streaming that has divided Hollywood is likely to hot up in India in the coming months. The espionage thriller BellBottom is among the big-budget productions that cannot wait for cinemas to be reopened in every corner of India and at full capacity for several reasons – including an obligation to financers to bring out a film by a stipulated date and the threat of a third wave undermining whatever box office takings there may bes.
Led by Akshay Kumar, BellBottom will be out on August 19 across the country. The movie will be released even if Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu do not permit cinemas to be re-opened by then. Apart from its theme and star cast (which includes Vaani Kapoor, Huma Qureshi and Lara Dutta), BellBottom will offer audiences the additional incentive of a 3D version.
The action thriller Protege is also aiming for an all-Indian release on August 19. Further down the line, the expected all-India releases include Nobody (English, August 27), Reminiscence (English, August 27) and Love Story (Telugu, August 27 or September 3).
Leading Hollywood studios have opted for new release strategies to combat the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. They are either letting out films in cinemas and on streamers on the same date (such as Black Widow and Cruella) or drastically shortening the gap between a theatrical release and its premiere on streaming platforms.
This approach protects movie lovers who are still wary of spending a few hours in a darkened hall with hundreds of other strangers. But it also means that the box office as we know it is broke, at least for now.
Until the coronavirus and its variants – especially the highly contagious Delta strain – are eradicated, even high vaccination rates might not persuade ticket buyers to return to theatres in a hurry. The box office pie has been halved, but some distributors are willing to settle for crumbs over nothing at all.
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