OTT debut of Shoojit Sarkar's 'Gulabo Sitabo' may script a new story

Theatres are expected to open in July as part of the government’s Unlock 1.0 programme
Shoojit Sarkar’s Gulabo Sitabo, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, is expected to garner far more viewers and do better financially for producers on the over-the-top (OTT) platform than in cinema halls, said trade analysts tracking the development. 

The movie had to take the OTT route first for release rather than the conventional theatrical release due to the lockdown induced by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Theatres are expected to open in July as part of the government’s Unlock 1.0 programme. Trade analyst Komal Nahta told Business Standard he expected more viewers to tune into Amazon Prime to watch the film, owing to the hype around its release.

“The movie is ordinary, but it will do much better on OTT, thanks to the hype built on the social media. Also, Amazon Prime has released the film in 15 languages in 200 countries, implying it is not looking for audiences in India alone,” 
he said. 

Amazon Prime has 17 million subscribers in India, according to estimates. Based on monthly active users, Jio and Hotstar have a share of 35.5 per cent and 30.3 per cent, respectively. Amazon Prime has a share of 14.8 per cent.

KPMG has pegged the OTT market in India at over 325 million users, saying it will touch 550 million users in 2-3 years. Digital media expert Shrenik Gandhi, who is co-founder of Mumbai-based White Rivers Media, said success of the film would depend on the number of paid subscribers on Prime. 


“Typically, some content on an OTT platform is free. The question is how many users would be willing to switch from free to paid to get access to content, such as the premiere of this film,” he said. Amazon Prime declined to share figures on the viewership of Gulabo Sitabo on the first day of its release.

But experts said compared to movie goers of not more than 0.6-1.2 million in cinema halls, depending on an average ticket price of Rs 50-100 per person, millions of viewers would watch Gulabo Sitabo on Prime.

The first movie to take the OTT route instead of a theatrical release was Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Ghoomketu, which premiered on Zee5 on May 22. 

It garnered over 23 per cent share of the 80 million monthly active users on the platform, a clear indication of the trend in Covid times, said experts.

Gulabo Sitabo, according to analysts, was made with a budget of Rs 40-45 crore and Prime bought the streaming rights for Rs 60-65 crore, helping producers make over Rs 20 crore.

Nahta said had the movie been released in theatres, it would not have had a domestic box-office collection of over Rs 60 crore. This means the producers would have recovered only Rs 30 crore, as 50 per cent of its collections would have to be shared with the exhibitors. 

That apart, producers would also have had to spend an additional Rs 10 crore in promotions. So, the total budget for the movie would have been Rs 50-55 crore, eating into profits further.

However, because of its deal with Amazon, the makers of Gulabo Sitabo not only make a neat upside but can also encash the lucrative satellite rights separately. But, after an OTT launch, the value the producers may get from broadcasters for a TV premiere is far lower, some experts have warned.

The decision of Sarkar to go to an OTT platform first, despite strong resistance from exhibitors some of whom have threatened “retributive measures”, has already led to many others joining the bandwagon, said experts.

According to industry sources, at least 12 to 15 other movies (apart from Shankuntala Devi starring Vidya Balan, and Tamil film Penguin) in Hindi and various regional languages are in the final stages of signing up with OTT platforms by the end of the month.

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