Just days before major Punjabi movies were to be released, the lockdown was enforced, bringing the entire industry to a standstill with closed cinemas and abandoned film sets. Now, with life slowly coming back on track, makers wonder if normalcy will ever be truly restored this year for the film industry.
Days before lockdown, the Punjabi cinema witnessed a dramatic turn of events. On March 13, there was a clash of Titans with two major releases – ‘Ikko-Mikke’, Satinder Sartaj’s debut in the Punjabi films and Amrinder Gill and Simi Chahal starrer ‘Chal Mera Putt 2’. But, the buzz was only short-lived as three days later; the cinemas were shut in Punjab due to the fear of rising cases of Covid-19. While, the makers and stars of both the biggies left no stone unturned to promote their movies, the deadlock merely after three days of the release faded all the excitement.
Munish Sahni, founder of Omjee Group, one of the biggest Punjabi film production & distribution company laments the major losses, “We had 10 major projects lined up for release till May 29, which include the distribution of two Bollywood mega projects – Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, starrer ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ and Varun Dhawan starrer, ‘Coolie No. 1’, a remake of 1995 hit film of the same name.” Also, the fate of his ill-timed ‘Chal Mera Putt 2’ cannot be undermined.
While ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ took the direct route to OTT with a slated exclusive premiere on Amazon Prime Video, Sahni is confident of seeing his other projects in the light of the day very soon. His projects that were lined up for April release include ‘Posti’, ‘Gol-Gappe’ and ‘Beautiful Billo’. He is also now, all geared up for the re-release of ‘Chal Mera Putt 2’, once the theatres open.
Cinema halls were shut even before the lockdown was imposed. However, with the announcement of lockdown 4.0, the government has decided to slowly open up the economy. In the latest development, on May 18, the Multiplex Association of India, under the aegis of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, released a new set of mandates that cinema halls across the country will have to follow.
The norms include following the new social distancing rules and having minimal human contact, disinfecting the entire theatre complex, using hand sanitizer and checking temperature of the cine goers. Families and couples can be seated together but adjacent seats will be left vacant. Only digital sales of tickets and food & beverages will be allowed and theatre staff will wear masks and gloves at all the time during working hours.
In an interview with a news portal, Ajay Bijli, Chairman & MD of PVR aired optimism on film screening in theatres in the current context. “We’ve taken a lot of measures to build the confidence of viewers and to ensure they feel safe & secure. We trust the Indian audience and we are confident that people are eager to watch movies on big screens.”
Taking a leaf from history Bijli said that whether it was Spanish flu, Great Depression, or World War 2, movie business bounced back very quickly on all occasions. “People might defer holidaying or buying luxury products, but since the average ticket size of a multiplex in India Rs 200, the audience will come as it’s like three hours of escapism for them”, added Bijli.
Punjabi Producer Munish Sahni echoes his views, “India is a film-loving country and movie watching in a theatre is an experience in itself. If the audience feel secure, they are bound to come back to theatres.”
But, there are filmmakers who have apprehensions on how the audience would react, once the theatres open. Producer & Director, Mohit Banwait, best known for films like ‘Parahauna’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Amritsar’ had a new release lined up in May –‘Ni Main Sass Kutni’. Anxious about the current situation, Banwait said, “Even if theatres are opened, we can’t get the atmosphere like before with social distancing in place. Moreover, the audience will have their set of apprehensions in coming to a theatre. In a catch-22 situation, I think most of the makers will be hesitant to release their films in 2020”, added Banwait.
This period of lockdown is the best time to think, introspect and plan for the future in a better way. It is also the best period to churn-out good scripts. But, this period of uncertainty has shaken the entertainment industry like never before. In such a grim scenario, OTT or digital streaming platforms like Netflix & Amazon Prime Video have shown some hope.
Navtej Singh Sandhu, best known for making meaningful, content-driven short films was all set with his next feature film – ‘Jamraud’ when the lockdown was enforced. Now he is in talks with one of the OTT platforms and is hopeful of striking a favorable deal for an exclusive premiere of his movie.
While Sandhu is of the opinion that OTT is the future and feels that makers will have to adapt, change and adjust to take things in their strides, Munish Sahni feels otherwise, “OTT can never replace the theatrical experience for consumers and for makers it’s simple economics – an average Punjabi film costs around 4-6 crores and no OTT platform can pay that much for a Punjabi film.”