The battle for Bollywood: As Netflix & Amazon score big wins, will theatres lower their curtains for good?

The pandemic is provoking a boom for streaming platforms in most other countries as well.

Agencies
So far, global platforms have committed to investing billions into building local content, while keeping India prices low to amass viewers.
By P R Sanjai

“Gulabo Sitabo,” a Bollywood film starring Indian legend Amitabh Bachchan, was supposed to draw millions to cinema halls this spring. Instead, the crowd-pleasing Hindi satire debuted on Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime streaming service as the coronavirus kept Indians home.

Other Indian blockbusters have followed, pouring into online platforms like Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ Hotstar. That’s won the streaming services first rights to play films usually watched in the large movie theaters popular in this nation of 1.3 billion people. Netflix says it has added six new Indian films that would otherwise have gone to cinemas, while Disney has at least seven such movies on tap.


India makes more films and sells more tickets than any other worldwide, making it one of the biggest potential prizes for streaming platforms owned by Netflix, Disney, and Amazon. Bollywood -- as India’s mainstream film industry is called -- has long been resistant to shifting online, and the changes of the coronavirus era are offering digital operators an unprecedented chance to lure new subscribers.

“There is a school of thought that cinemas are anachronistic and as entertainment gets more individual and sachet-sized, they will fade,” said Utkarsh Sinha, managing director of Bexley Advisors, a boutique investment bank focused on early-stage deals in tech and media. “If that school of thought is right, this pandemic could certainly be the point of inflection.”

The pandemic is provoking a boom for streaming platforms in most other countries as well. The spread of lockdowns has hastened a trend already underway as the biggest platforms spent billions to build up online film libraries to lure viewers from theaters. India’s lockdown and stay-at-home restrictions have been one of the world’s most severe, halting visits to restaurants and shopping malls and forcing citizens to turn to online entertainment.
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The international firms don’t offer much detail on the growth of subscriptions in India, but their challenge will be to hold onto new users once big cinema halls reopen. Bollywood films, which often include flashy song-and-dance numbers -- tend be produced for the big screen.

So far, global platforms have committed to investing billions into building local content, while keeping India prices low to amass viewers. Netflix’s Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings said during a visit to the country in December that Netflix intends to spend 30 billion rupees ($400 million) over 2019 and 2020 to produce more local content.

Disney is adding blockbusters to a platform that had in the past relied on cricket as its biggest draw, a booming sport that’s postponed games because of the coronavirus. Amazon now offers a library of hit Bollywood films, including some featuring popular stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, for subscribers to its Prime shopping service.

While the online onslaught has widened, India’s cinema industry isn’t planning to start lowering its curtains for good. A survey by researcher Ormax Media showed 82% missed going to theaters a lot during the lockdown.
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Sinha of Bexley said once the pandemic passes and theaters reopen fully, there will be a surge in cinema attendance bolstered by releases that chose to wait, rather than debuting on streaming platforms. Cinema operators themselves are expressing confidence that filmmakers will still prefer to debut on a big screen.

“We have got a lot of assurance from our producer friends that they all believe in the power of a theatrical exhibition,” Alok Tandon, chief executive officer of Indian theater operator Inox Leisure Ltd., told investors on a conference call last month.
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Quarantine And Chill: From ‘Money Heist’ to ‘Parasite’, Shows & Films You Can Watch During Lockdown
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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to a screeching halt. With a large chunk of the global population locked up indoors, a considerable number of people are turning to OTT platforms and streaming their favourite content to make the most of their quarantine.

We have prepared a comprehensive list of all the shows and films (both on OTT platforms and television) that you can watch during the lockdown to keep yourself entertained.

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‘Ramayan’, an old classic from the yesteryears that kept the audience back in ‘80s hooked to their television sets, returned to Indian TV amid Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and took the TRP charts by storm. According to an Economic Times report, the three-decade-old saga by Ramanand Sagar earned a massive 170 million viewers in just four shows.

As viewers re-lived some of their favourite moments from the epic saga like Sitaharan and the iconic moment when Lord Rama defeated Ravana, the TRPs of Doordarshan skyrocketed.

DD National said on April 16, 7.7 crore people across the globe watched the show, making 'Ramayan' the highest watched entertainment program globally.

The last episode of ‘Ramayan’ aired on Doordarshan on April 20. If you didn’t get a chance to catch up on ‘Ramayan’ fret not. DD is now airing ‘Uttar Ramayan’ from 9 am to 10 am and 9 pm to 10 pm every day, which is an official follow up to the original show and chronicles the journey of Luv Kush.

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Thanks to ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’, Doordarshan had become the most-watched Hindi entertainment channel in the lockdown period. Soon, it was announced that Pogo and Prasar Bharti had joined hands to air ‘Chotta Bheem’ on DD National.

One of the most popular kids series, which features Bheem and his friends in the fictional town of Dholakpur, airs on DD National every afternoon at 2 pm.

Needless to say, the show received a warm welcome from the audience, which consisted mainly of kids who enjoyed their favourite Bheem going on fun-filled adventures with his friends.

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Way before the battle between Marvel and DC Comics started, Indian kids had only one superhero to look up to, Shaktimaan. The show which originally aired on Doordarshan from 1997 to 2005, made its way back to India TV amid the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.

The superhero television show had producer Mukesh Khanna playing the role of ‘Shaktimaan’, who acquired superhuman powers via meditation.

‘Shaktimaan’ airs on DD National on weekdays at 8 pm.



Way before the battle between Marvel and DC Comics started, Indian kids had only one superhero to look up to, Shaktimaan. The show which originally aired on Doordarshan from 1997 to 2005, made its wa..
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No conversation about classic TV shows from the yesteryears is complete without talking about the iconic ‘Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai’. The show is about the Sarabhais, a family living in the posh area of Mumbai. The show is filled with witty dialogues, tongue-in-cheek humour and, of course, the constant bickering between Maya and Monisha over the latter’s ‘middle class’ ways.

Those who have seen the show can vouch for its fresh humour and that it was way ahead of its times. Watch it for Maya’s sass, Monisha’s retorts and more than anything, for Rosesh’s poems!

‘Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai’ airs on Star Bharat every day at 10 am.

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‘Khichdi’ and ‘Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai’ are two shows whose names are often taken in the same breath. ‘Khichdi’, like Sarabhai, reached cult status and got a massive fan following years after it finished airing. From Hansa’s comical translations from Hindi to English to Praful’s dim-witted demeanour, the show has fun characters, each with their own quirks.

Much like its contemporary ‘Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai’, ‘Khichdi’ is one show which is perceived to be ahead of its time in terms of humour and plot.

You can catch up on ‘Khichdi’ on Star Bharat every day at 11 am.

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‘Money Heist’, originally, ‘La Casa De Papel’, is a Spanish heist crime drama that premiered in 2017 and is currently streaming on Netflix. The show is about a mysterious man named ‘Professor’ who recruits a group of eight people to rob the Royal Mint of Spain. Each of these eight people have city names and their own character traits which make them interesting.

As the crew takes over the Royal Mint of Spain, they face a series of challenges from rebellion among the hostages to the tactics of the elite police force. They end up stealing 2.4 billion euros and return in the next season to rob the Bank of Spain.

‘Money Heist’ is streaming now on Netflix.

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‘Panchayat’ is one show that enjoyed massive success, thanks to the lockdown. Starring the talented Jitendra Kumar, veteran Neena Gupta and Raghubir Yadav in titular roles, the web series is the story of an engineer, Abhishek, who, due to the lack of a better job option, joins a remote panchayat office as the secretary.

‘Panchayat’ received critical acclaim and widespread recognition upon its release. While critics appreciated it for its simple yet layered narrative, the audience loved the show because of its humour.

You can watch ‘Panchayat’ on Amazon Prime Video.

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It’s not common to see a streaming giant, with the stature as high as that of Netflix, come up with a reality television game show. ‘Too Hot To Handle’, is one show, which thanks to the lockdown, was binge-watched by several Netflix subscribers.

The reality show is hosted by ‘Lana’, a virtual assistant that sets the rules which need to be followed by the contestants throughout the season. The show follows an original group of ten singles who are taken to a special villa to find love and earn $100,000. However, soon, the contestants are told that the prize money will be deducted if anyone on the island engages in sexual activity.

‘Too Hot To Handle’ became the #1 television program on Netflix in the week of April 20 and sparked a series of meme trends on social media platforms.

All episodes of the show are streaming now on Netflix.

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Starring Vir Das, Manoj Pahwa, Ranvir Shorey and Ravi Kishan, ‘Hasmukh’ is a dark comedy web television series which premiered on Netflix on April 17,2020. The story follows a small-town man who also happens to be a serial killer.

‘Hasmukh’ landed in controversy after the High Court sought Netflix response to a lawsuit alleging that the show maligns the image of lawyers. The suit alleged that episode 4 of the first season alleges lawyers to be thieves, scoundrels and goons.

All episodes of ‘Hasmukh’ are streaming now on Netflix.

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