Amid the uncertainty that Mollywood faces regarding theatre releases of films, actor-producer Vijay Babu on Friday announced the release of his Jayasurya-Aditi Rao Hydari movie Sufiyum Sujathayum on the OTT platform. While he explains that he took the initiative as a matter of the survival for everyone in these unpredictable times, the news came as a shocker to many. Theatre owners say the filmmaker is abandoning them when theatres are already staring at a crisis, and exhibitors’ associations have decided to ban the screening of Vijay Babu’s films in future.
“Big films have to take the theatre route to pull in the crowd, but the general pulse in the market is that medium and small films may have to depend on OTT platforms to survive,” says Vijay Babu. “Unless I recover the investment, I won’t be able to produce another movie and also won’t be able to sustain the jobs of those dependent on me. The producers’ association is standing by us.”
However, M C Boby, general secretary of the Film Exhibitors United Organization of Kerala, says it is a betrayal. “We are not concerned about films and filmmakers making movies for OTT platforms. But Sufiyum Sujathayum was made for theatre release. Vijay Babu had registered it in the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce and made an agreement with theatre owners to exhibit it. The producer’s association also isn’t favourable to this decision. We have decided not to screen any films that Vijay Babu is part of in theatres,” he notes.
Liberty Basheer, president, Kerala Film Exhibitors Federation, echoed his views, and pointed out that OTT platforms are an option for producers of big budget films that have run successfully in theatres. “It is upsetting that filmmakers are distributing their films to other platforms when we all are facing a crisis and waiting patiently for a solution. It would have been fine if this was done by a newbie or struggling producer, but Vijay Babu has made crores from theatres,” he says.
Anto Joseph, secretary of the Kerala Film Producer’s Association (KFPA), reveals that a decision on how to bring clarity on releases hereafter will be made only after a meeting of all film associations. “The producer explained he has invested Rs 6 crore in the film and was not sure when he would be able to get a theatre release. Many producers, like him, have invested crores loaned from financiers and are stuck. So, we need to plan ahead as this is the matter of survival for the industry and for the State,” he says.
While actor-filmmaker Renji Panicker points out there is no harm in exploring other platforms for returns, an understanding must be reached between producers and exhibitors so as to not “upset the present balance”. “All aggrieved parties in the industry should work jointly for a solution. Any unilateral move by any individual or collective forum will damage the present equations in the industry,” he says.