Amazon snatches Bollywood premieres, Indian theatre owners furious

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Amazon Prime Video, Amazon’s streaming service, will screen several new Indian films originally meant for release in theatres this month, sparking protests from cinema owners as the novel coronavirus outbreak upends Bollywood.

India has been under a strict lockdown since March 25 to battle the virus, leaving about 9,500 theatres shut and depriving Bollywood of box-office revenue.

So producers of seven films, including two Bollywood movies starring A-listers, such as Amitabh Bachchan and Vidya Balan, will stream the movies directly on Amazon Prime Video following a deal, the company said in a statement on Friday.

Gulabo Sitabo”, a family comedy with Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, which was set for release in April, will now stream directly on Amazon Prime Video in June, as will “Shakuntala Devi”, a biopic of the Indian mathematician of the same name.

Two of India’s biggest cinema chains, Inox and PVR, which were meant to screen “Gulabo Sitabo”, bemoaned the decision.

INOX will be constrained to examine its options, and reserves all rights, including taking retributive measures in dealing with such fair-weather friends,” Inox said in a statement.

The producers’ guild said the comments from Inox were “abrasive and unconstructive”.

PVR Chief Executive Kamal Gianchandani was sad after Amazon announced it would stream “Gulabo Sitabo”.

The other five films in the Amazon deal were productions from the prolific southern-language film industry.

Streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix had in the past signed deals with Indian studios for digital rights, but mainstream releases have always prioritised theatrical revenues first.

Bollywood is a huge draw for India’s burgeoning online audiences, who – driven by cheap data and smartphones – are spending more time watching content online than ever before.