Amazon Prime India to premiere seven movies, prompting theatrical backlash

Amazon Prime India has announced that seven local movies, including Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo (pictured), will bypass Indian theatres and premiere on its platform, a move that has already prompted a backlash from local cinema chains. 

The slate, which will premiere on Amazon Prime between May and August, also includes Anu Menon’s Hindi-language Shakuntala Devi, starring Vidya Balan, and five regional-language films. 

Shakuntala Devi, a biopic of the mathematics genius, writer and astrologer, is produced by Sony Pictures Networks Productions and Vikram Malhotra’s Abundantia Entertainment. 

J.J. Fredrick’s Tamil-language legal drama Ponmagal Vandhal, starring Jyothika, will stream from May 29, while Tamil and Telugu-language Penguin, directed by Eshavar Karthic and starring Keerthy Suresh, streams from June 19. 

The line-up also includes two Kannada-language films – Raghu Samarth’s Law, which streams from June 26 and Pannaga Bharana’s French Biryani, streaming from July 24 – and Malayalam-language Sufiyum Sujatayum, directed by Naranipuzha Shanavas and produced by Vijay Babu’s Friday Film House.

Two of India’s biggest cinema chains, PVR Cinemas and Inox Leisure, have spoken out against the growing number of theatrical movies that are opting for a digital premiere during India’s Covid-19 lockdown and cinema closures. Gulabo Sitabo, which will stream on Amazon Prime from June 12, was originally scheduled to open in theatres on April 17.

Following Amazon Prime’s announcement, Inox issued a strongly worded statement, in which it described producers that bypass cinemas as “fair weather friends”, and added that it would “reserve all rights to take retributive measures”.

The statement read: “Inox would like to express extreme displeasure and disappointment on an announcement made by a production house today, to release their movie directly on an OTT platform by skipping the theatrical window run. The decision of the production house to deviate from the globally prevalent content windowing practice is alarming and disconcerting.”

Meanwhile, PVR Pictures CEO Kamal Gianchandani also criticised the move. “We are disappointed with Gulabo Sitabo’s decision to go straight to a streaming platform,” said Gianchandani, speaking to Indian newspaper, the Indian Express. “We were hoping that the producers would accede to our request to hold back their films’ release till cinemas reopened.”

India’s cinemas have been closed since mid-March as part of a lockdown in the country’s fight against Covid-19, which was just been extended to the end of May. So far Indian authorities have not made any statements on when theatres can reopen or what kind of safety measures will need to be implemented.