Did hybrid release of Salman Khan-starrer 'Radhe' go awry?

Mumbai: When Salman Khan announced his much-awaited Eid release "Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai" would have a hybrid release, there were mixed reactions all around. With theatrical release mainly in the overseas market besides a negligible number of halls in India, "Radhe" dropped on the pay-per-view (PPV) platform Zeeplex for viewers in the country. The industry was looking at a new way of taking films to the viewers, one that had never been tried out in the country before.

A week after the film's release on May 13, the question doing the rounds among fans is an obvious one: Is "Radhe" a hit or a flop, given its new strategy of hybrid release?

Zee has announced that the film saw 4.2 million views across its online and DTH platforms on day one, adding that the heavy traffic temporarily brought servers down on that day, according to a report in livemint.com. Thereafter an elaborate publicity drive by the makers has been flaunting that figure as a reason to rejoice.

However, the sense of joy could be slightly misplaced, because they gloss over a vital fact. It is important to note that 4.2 million views does not necessarily translate into 4.2 million purchases online.

More than one person can watch a film with the same purchase, unlike in the case of a theatrical release where every member of a family or group watching a film together has to buy individual tickets. Each ticket of would cost much more than Rs 249 -- the base price set by Zee for a pay-per-view watch. Zee has also extended a package deal worth Rs 499, for buyers who wish to watch the film as well as get OTT subscription for a year. That doesn't add to much either, compared to what the box office might have raked in.

Given the situation, recovery of investment could seem like an uphill task, forget profits, even if you take into account the overseas market and the minuscule number of Indian theatres where the film released. After all, the makers of the film reportedly did a deal of over Rs 200 crore with Zee, which included the major rights of India box office, overseas box office, music, satellite, with a narrowed window release that mostly did not happen due to lockdown.

In India, scuttled by pandemic shutdown, the film found big screen release in precisely three halls in the country -- in the state of Tripura, where theatres were open in its first week. The film released in two halls in Agartala and one in the town of Dharmanagar, managing to earn Rs 59,920 in the opening weekend across the halls, reports the trade website bollywoodhungama.com.

The film's best overseas theatrical business has been in the Gulf market. Here, the film did a theatrical business of $4,75,000 on Thursday, May 13 (day one) and around $4,00,000 on Friday, according to boxofficeindia.com. These figures are indicative of the best that "Radhe" might have garnered in this market -- its strongest turf for big screen business -- and they certainly wouldn't assure recovery and profits.

While most have written off the hyrbrid release strategy, Bollywood trade experts are divided in opinion.

"I feel they couldn't put in place the theatrical infrastructure for a hybrid release while the other part of it -- the digital release -- is also at a very nascent stage. Our internet connections, barring in 10 or 15 cities, is not very strong. How can you watch a film that way? We are not geared for that. Infrastructure wise we are not fully ready and we have unnecessarily aided piracy, which was virtually dead but when a film as this is so easily available on digital platform it will be easily pirated. That completely defeats the purpose. Blindly copying a Hollywood model is a far cry. Hollywood is much more developed. They have a mature market. PPV has to come to India, but right now technology-wise they are way ahead. When you take a decision of this magnitude, you have to consider these aspects," Girish Johar, producer and film business tells IANS.

"I would rather say this is a huge learning cost for them (Zee). I believe that the timing of everything was wrong, including the release. It was clear by the end of March that we are gripped by the second wave and they could have delayed the release, which they didn't. A sizable chunk has been missed out from theatres because we all know that Salman is a mass star," he added.

Trade analyst Atul Mohan feels Zee is a big player and can afford such a risky move, as the brand has enough platforms to recover money from.

"Whenever something new is introduced and served, risk in involved. You learn from your mistakes and make the corrections in terms of pricing, platform, subscription and all. All this big risks and challenges can only be brought by people who have deep pockets. Only Zee could have afforded this. They still have 10 years with them. They have music, satellite, overseas rights are there, they have 40 to 45 channels and they can outsource, too. They can slowly make the money. When the film was announced for hybrid release, the cinema halls were open in some capacity or other. It's all part and parcel and we should not discourage, pull down or demoralise the idea. Over the period of time, they will make money," says Atul Mohan.

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh highlights an angle that probably not many are talking about. He feels the film's inability to impress the audience should also be discussed, when the cash registers are being scanned.

"I think it is too early to pass judgement on the film's trade. We can pass judgement on its merit since the film is in public domain. It's been a week and a lot of people I presume have watched it, and the reactions have not been good. As far as revenue is concerned, it is too early to judge. This is can be best answered by Zee authorities after two to three months. But as far as the content is concerned, it is a complete downer and I don't think the film has any recall value. I still get teary-eyed watching Salman's 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' or 'Sultan' but I would not like to recall 'Race 3', 'Dabangg 3' or 'Radhe'. For Salman Khan, it is time for reboot and press the reset button. He was far gutsier when he started out, doing 'Maine Pyar Kiya', 'Andaz Apna Apna', 'Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!'. Even in 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai', he was so lovable. My question is, where is that Salman Khan? Every actor has to reboot," he says.

Salman on his part was always wary that the returns may not be spectacular. Speaking to the media before the film's release, he had candidly confessed: "We will get the lowest numbers out of 'Radhe'. We may not even cross Rs 10-15 crore. Whoever wants to be happy with the lowest number, can be. Some people will be happy with my highest numbers and some with my lowest. We will lose money on 'Radhe' and box office collections are going to be almost zero, but we are still going ahead with (releasing) Radhe."

With apologies to theatre owners for taking the step, he had added that once the situation was better and the theatres opened, they would re-release the film in theatres. "Once the theatres open, even after doing this OTT release, if they (audience) like the film they will want to go and see the film in theatres. Also, there is a particular audience that does not watch stuff on OTT," he had said.

Will Zee be able to make money with "Radhe" in the long run? Time will tell. For now, other Bollywood biggies will surely be wary of going hybrid with release of their films.

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