Salman Khan's Radhe hybrid release is less a compromise, more a sustainable exhibition model during pandemic
When Warner Bros announced simultaneous release of big-ticket films on its streaming film HBO Max along with theatres, it invited criticism from the purists. With Radhe now going the same path, it only shows why the 'hybrid' model is the go-to resort in a pandemic.
The theatrical trailer of Salman Khan’s Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai has dropped today but that is not making as much news amongst industrywallas as the announcement of its ‘unconventional’ release plan.
The film releases on the Eid weekend, 13 May, and that too does not come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed his career over the past decade. The buzz is around the fact that for the first time ever, an A-list Hindi film will be made available to anyone and everyone willing to pay for it, at a location of their choice — be it a theatre, their handheld devices or their living rooms.
The makers of Radhe, that also stars Disha Patani, Randeep Hooda, and Jackie Shroff, have announced a hybrid release model for the film. It will screen in theatres around the country and international territories like the Middle East, Australia-New Zealand, Europe and the UK, Singapore, and North America. The film will simultaneously premiere on a streaming pay-per-view (PPV) service ZEEPlex and four DTH networks – Tata Sky, D2H, Dish, and Airtel.
Given the pandemic has been raging for over a year now, it is not really breaking news that producers are looking at the streaming option to release their films. Films like Gulabo Sitabo, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, and Shakuntala Devi were the first movers that were pegged to be large theatrical releases in 2020 but eventually premiered on OTT platforms. What was initially seen as an isolated experiment in response to the unprecedented pandemic quickly became a necessity. Even when the numbers of new cases dipped around India, people were not keen on returning to theatres, and films like Laxmii and Coolie No 1 that were considered big-ticket masala films adopted the streaming route.
Understandably, theatre owners have been upset and have been the hardest hit but one does not need to be an economics professor to see that most producers really had little choice. That has not stopped people outraging though, especially those who strongly believe in the sanctity of the larger-than-life silver screen experience. And it is not an Indian problem alone. When Warner Bros decided to release its entire 2021 slate simultaneously in theatres and on its HBO Max streaming service, industry doyens like Christopher Nolan were up in arms. From expressing utter disbelief to calling it a “messy move,” Nolan’s famous rant went on about the studio not respecting filmmakers and artistes, and using their work as a loss-leader for their fledgling streaming service.
What is different with Radhe though, is that the film will not be made available via any kind of subscription at all. You read that right — the film will not be available to all those who already have a ZEE5 subscription. Anyone, however, can log in via a browser or the ZEE5 app to the ZEEPlex pay-per-view page and pay a one-time fee to rent the film. In addition to that, the film will be available on the same PPV pricing model to DTH users of the services mentioned before. Having paid the rental fee, a user can settle down to start watching the film any time over the next 48 hours. Once that play button is pressed though, you have exactly six hours to finish it. Sounds less and less like logging into your favourite OTT platform?
It really is more like walking into a multiplex and buying a ticket for the show timing of your choice, except for the fact that you get to choose your own loo and food breaks. The biggest dissimilarity to OTT, however, will be the value of that one-time rental.
While the pricing hasn’t been announced, it is highly unlikely that this one-time rental will come cheap. It is an experiment that was conducted for a few A-list Hollywood releases in the past (even pre-COVID-19), and pricing for those releases in the US were pegged at $30+, or twice the average price of a theatre ticket. In India, opening weekend prices for large films at multiplexes hover between Rs 400 to Rs. 1000, so it would hardly be surprising to see rental costs at the higher end of that spectrum, if not more. In other words, the rental a user would shell out for one viewing of the film would possibly get them the subscription of an entire year on the host app. Puts things in context, doesn’t it? And creates a level playing field, especially for single screens where low pricing is a huge draw.
This day-and-date release model is one that theatre owners have been opposing for months but this might just be the middle-of-the-road release option that pleases all stakeholders, without the film suffering. Instead of holding out and not releasing, a route that many studios have taken, this is giving the exhibition arm of the industry a much needed shot in the arm, while also catering to those who either do not have access to theatres yet or are not ready to return. For producers, it is like extending the box office into people’s homes and broadening the spectrum of theatrical release, without eating into streaming or satellite revenue.
It is a win-win for everyone.
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Meanwhile, Radhe will be available to watch on pay-per-view broadcast platform Zee Plex and prominent DTH services from 13 May.