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D Suresh Babu on theatre business, OTT releases, big movies and more


D Suresh Babu, the producer of 'Drushyam 2', has talked about a lot of things that concern the film industry. He has thrown light on the issues afflicting Tollywood in specific during the pandemic. In this detailed interview, the star producer also opens up about the place of OTTs in today's times, why it is hard to make audience come to theatres, and more.

'Drushyam 2' has been a very good experience. This is the fastest that we shot a movie. We were lucky that we managed to shoot the film with extreme care during the pandemic. Credit goes to Jeethu Joseph's intelligent writing and the performances by everyone. It's a wholesome movie. It was in October that we decided to release the movie directly on OTT.

OTT is a financially better model in the current circumstances. Even good Telugu original movies collected Rs 20 Cr in theatres in normal times. Films belonging to some genres are not spectacle movies. Visual feasts collect big amounts. The likes of 'Drushyam 2' are becoming OTT movies exclusively.

When 'Drushyam 2' was being shot, I stayed away from the shoot out of fear of Covid-19. I am not ready to send my family members to theatres. When I myself don't want my family members to take the risk in Covid time, how can I expect others to do it and watch my movies? The fear of covid has been going down. Big movies like 'RRR' will be watched in theatres by the audience because they have to be communal experiences.

The number of theatres has come down, while the number of restaurants and other businesses is going up. It's because of other avenues of entertainment. Thanks to smartphones, the consumption pattern of entertainment has changed. You have to create a spectacle if you want the audience to come to the theatre.

New formats like OTT are more democratic. It's a blessing for budding artists and technicians. People are watching content for free on YouTube. We all have to adapt to change. Films are being watched by audiences of various languages, which is why we have pan-India movies.

You have to make compelling small films if you want the audience to come to theatres. 'Arjun Reddy' was a small film but it was watched in theatres. Any film has the same ticket rate. Why would the audience spend Rs 100 on a small film if it doesn't offer something unique?

OTT platforms are not agreeing to post-OTT theatrical releases of movies. I wanted 'Narappa' to release in theatres as well. But they didn't agree. I have a good relationship with Amazon Prime. Every OTT platform wants new subscribers to come in when they stream an exclusive release. Players like Amazon are large corporates. They are here for the long haul. They don't expect profits for years. We are in a market cap world.

Businesses are trying to change the habit of the consumer. We can debate what is right, what is wrong. OTTs believe that you can watch more if you sleep less.

I am feeling sad for independent theatre owners, who have been suffering like anything during the pandemic. No government has done much for them. Minimum power charges are being levied on them for the lockdown period. A three-month waiver in Andhra Pradesh is yet to be notified. We have been requesting the Centre and state governments but to no avail. How are independent theatres expected to survive? Governments are sympathetic in speech. But follow-up option is not adequate. In States like Karnataka, progress has happened due to efforts. It's not clear why some governments are not that responsive. I speak my heart out. I don't hide anything.

Many films are not lasting even the first day, first show. Is it because of the changing tastes? In November, no film has got Housefull collections in any theatre in the Telugu States. Only festival-time collections are great. 'Akhanda' and 'Pushpa' will be watched in a big way. There is no doubt. But small films are not drawing the audience.

Sankranthi releases have to collect huge amounts. We are taking the risk by believing that audiences are watching movies in a big way during festivals. 'Sooryavanshi' became a big hit in Hindi but 'Bunty Aur Babli 2' has failed to click. It has to be seen how each film the coming Sankranthi will get theatres allotted to them.

We have got 1750 screens in the Telugu States. Multiplexes have come up only because of subsidies in different States. Malls have come up because of the multiplex culture. Multiplex giants are not going to make capital investments anywhere for the next 1 or 2 years anywhere in the world except in China.

TV is offering unlimited entertainment at a cheap cost. Why would people come to theatres if you don't offer anything new? Amenities have been improved by theatres to raise the experience. If theatres in AP make good collections (in normal times), it's because theatre owners have upped the game in terms of improving the movie-watching experience for the audience.

My next three small films have been sold already to OTTs. My theatre business has been losing money (due to the pandemic). If my production business too makes losses, how can I survive? I have to make my own call as per my calculations. It's my personal choice. I care for the industry as much as others. I was born in this industry. My interest is that story-telling should never go out of existence. We are storytellers first. Thanks to social media, any talent has got an opportunity. It's a democratic setup.

'Virata Parvam' has been co-produced by others along with me. A call is yet to be taken regarding its mode of release. 'Saakini Daakini', starring Regina and Nivetha Thomas, is in the making. It will be a direct OTT release. 'Dongalunnaru Jagratha' and 'Dancing Queen' are the other OTT releases from us. My plan is to collaborate with a lot of producers to bring out meaningful content.

Some governments are more friendly to the entertainment industry. They realize that the visibility of the film industry is much bigger than its financial clout. Hyderabad has the potential to become the film capital of India. Cinema, politics and sports are not about numbers. It's not always about money. We (Telugu film industry personalities) used to be in Chennai once. Why did we move to Hyderabad decades ago? If the film industry is encouraged, tourism revs up.

Black tickets are bought by the consumer out of his volition. Black marketing is definitely wrong. Where there is excessive demand, there will be a black market. But no film has a permanent black market. Even train tickets have a black market. A crazy cricket match has a black market. You can't single out one industry.  

Updated on November 27, 2021