Sadak 2, Laxmii, Drive’s debacle on OTTs: Have OTTs become a dumping ground?

Sadak 2 and Laxmmi both didn’t get a good response when they released on an OTT platform directly, as theatres were shut down due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

OTT platforms emerged as a saviour for everyone during the Covid 19 induced lockdown. With movie theatres closed, and no new projects being shot with the ban on shoots, these online platforms gave makers a chance to release them directly there instead, to both entertain viewers, and also not having to sit on the project for long.

While the ups were certainly numerous, the downs are now in full effect. It started with Sadak 2, which boasted of a cast such as Sanjay Dutt and Alia Bhatt, but didn’t meet the hype. An even bigger surprise was Akshay Kumar’s Laxmmi, which wasn’t welcomed with open arms by people, despite a promising trailer and songs.

Murmurs now suggest that Amazon Prime, which is going to release Varun Dhawan- Sara Ali Khan’s Coolie No 1, has demanded a screening for their content team, after Laxmii’s debacle.

The question arises: have OTT platforms realised that maybe they were being treated as a sort of dumping ground for films, and the attraction, without even seeing the product, being big stars? 

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says it would be wrong to call these platforms that. “Like hits and flops at box office, likes and dislikes on OTTs are part of the game. It happens with theatrical distribution also, that films are bought on face value. In the 1970s-80s, distributors were shown the film prior, now they are shown at the last stage, or a day before the release, or I know a lot of them who had to watch with the audience,” he reveals.

While he declines to comment on Coolie No 1, Adarsh attributes it to the times changing, “It depends from film to film, and the confidence level. At times, films are not ready, or makers don’t want to show any portion.”

Makers, on their part, too refuse that online streaming platforms are being used to just get a project off their back. Anand Pandit, bankrolling Abhishek Bachchan-starrer The Big Bull, which will release on the same OTT platform as Laxmii, says, “This is simple unfortunate, that some films were not received well by the public, which was like a chain. That doesn’t mean OTTs are dumping grounds. It’s very difficult to sell a film there.” 

Explaining why it’s tough, Pandit tells us, “We have only four major players — Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and to a certain extent Zee5. They all need only one new film in a quarter, or one film in two months. All together make 18 approximately, whereas in theatres we had two-three coming out every week. Last year, 300 films came in theatres, and only 30 were profitable. On OTT too, some film will become the next hit and the ratio would be same.”

Earlier, late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s Drive had been released directly on an OTT platform to bad reviews. What’s interesting is that smaller films such as Lootcase this year managed to garner eyeballs instead. The director of the Kunal Kemmu-starrer, Rajesh Krishnan says OTT is a great levelling ground. “For starters the audience is extremely discerning and acutely aware of their choices. As a filmmaker/ actor, you are now officially competing with some of the best content from all over the world. It will help to understand that the same viewer has different expectations from both these mediums. I dress up to watch a movie in a theatre. On OTT I watch stuff in my shorts, with my favourite beverage. Movie in a theatre is an occasion with family, spouses and friends. In the case of OTT the movie better be the occasion!,” he exclaims.

For an OTT’s point of view, we reach out to Aparna Acharekar, Programming Head, ZEE5, who streamed Chintu Ka Birthday and Pareeksha, both which fetched good reviews. She says that the audience today looks for content which has great soul. “It’s not like they ride on the back of top A-listers. Now there is accessibility to this content, which was earlier limited to select circles of film festivals. The ordinary circle never had access, they watched what came in theatres and then TV. Now the new breed of OTT has made it available,” she reasons.

As for the platforms being overused by makers for their benefit, she adds one dumps something which is “not usually valued”, “OTTs pay significant amount of money to either acquire or produce these films, and hence it’s not completely true. Certain acquisitions may have been done by others without being able to see what the final outcome would be. In our case, we watched whichever stage our acquisitions were in. If we produce, then we have complete creative control. Also, it would be unfair to say any film didn’t work, as none of us declare what subscriptions we got.”

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