By Dushyant Shekhawat Dec. 15, 2020
The thought of sitting in a socially distanced theatre, with paranoia over safety measures constantly breaking the immersion of the film makes the cinema experience an unattractive proposition. And not even the lure of another Christopher Nolan mindbender is going to be enough to overcome my misgivings.
On a rainy Mumbai morning in July 2008, my friend and I braved the downpour and strong winds to ride my trusty black Activa to the multiplex. Once we finally picked up our tickets, we were drenched but happy – after all, these were tickets to see Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight on the day of its release! Now, over 12 years later, I received the latest Nolan film much more mutedly. Tenet released earlier this month – one of the first films to appear in Indian theatres since the country went into lockdown – but unlike 2008, the enthusiasm to watch it was missing for me. Because in 2020, the landscape of entertainment has undergone a generational change in the space of a year, thanks to the conditions imposed by the pandemic.
The thought of sitting in a socially distanced theatre, with paranoia over safety measures constantly breaking the immersion of the film makes the cinema experience an unattractive proposition. And not even the lure of another Nolan mindbender is going to be enough to overcome my misgivings. It’s a similar situation with Wonder Woman 1984. Though I was initially upset when the film’s original April release was postponed due to the coronavirus breakout, by the time the film does finally release later this month I doubt I will be in a theatre-going mood. In fact, I will be jealous of overseas audiences in countries like the United States, where the film will be simultaneously released on streaming service HBO Max along with theatres. After the year we’ve had, I’d rather watch a movie from the comfort of my home than spend hours in a sealed room full of strangers.
Warner Bros, the studio behind Wonder Woman 1984, has announced plans to release all of its upcoming films for the next year on its streaming platform as well as theatres. Though it has led filmmakers like Nolan to criticise the move, there’s no doubting the balance of power in the entertainment industry is shifting. Even Disney, the studio whose uber-popular franchises like Marvel and Star Wars take home the lion’s share of worldwide box office collections annually, is dedicating more resources to streaming. This week, the studio announced 20 new streaming series coming to its platform, Disney+, over the next two years.
After the year we’ve had, I’d rather watch a movie from the comfort of my home than spend hours in a sealed room full of strangers.
Ever since the nationwide lockdown forced movie theatres to pull down their shutters in March, an increasing number of people have turned to streaming services, and studios are realising that. If there’s been a silver lining to being stuck in our homes, it’s that we’ve had the chance to indulge in guilty pleasures like Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking or The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives. But aside from the empty calories of these cringey-but-riveting reality shows, streaming platforms have also been offering serious content and big-budget films featuring stars we’re more used to seeing on the big screen. Jahnvi Kapoor launch vehicle Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl and ill-fated Akshay Kumar project Laxmmii were just some of the Bollywood movies that we would have normally seen in theatres in any other year.
Some filmmakers are following Nolan’s lead and hoping to successfully release their films in theatres despite the pandemic. The film about India’s first cricket World Cup triumph, 83, is still expected to release in theatres, along with other projects. But when there’s an equally exciting slate of releases available on-demand at home, will fans return in their former numbers?
2020 has been a difficult year for many businesses, but at least streaming platforms had a chance to win over new subscribers and make progress that would have taken years in months. Whatever happens, there’s always going to be a demand for new content. All that remains to be seen is where it is consumed: at home, or the theatre?
Dushyant Shekhawat really likes his mustache. He grew it himself. You can find him on Twitter at @SeriousDushyant.