A few months into the pandemic in 2020 and with the sudden popularity of OTT content across the globe, one aspect remained quite clear. The hero didn’t matter much in the digital space, only the content did. The popularity of several Malayalam films, international shows and the success of small-budgeted Telugu films like Bhanumati and Krishna, Krishna and his Leela, Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya, Middle Class Melodies and Colour Photo ushered in a new wave of sorts that left many wondering if the era of stars/star culture was a thing of the past.
Come December 2020, with the opening of the theatres, everyone in the industry were curious to see if any of these assumptions would prove true. Sai Dharam Tej’s Solo Brathuke So Better, despite the wafer-thin storyline, fared reasonably well in the first week in theatres after which it was available on pay-per-view on OTT. The next big battle was Sankranti – from Ravi Teja’s Krack to Ram Pothineni’s Red to Bellamkonda Sai Sreenivas’ Alludu Adhurs and the dubbed version of Master. The festive vibe was apparent in theatres, bursting with newfound energy.
Krack was undoubtedly the winner of the Sankranti race despite the tough competition, closely followed by Red and Master which earned decent profits for the distributors despite the mixed talk. The box office results proved that star pull has and will always prove crucial in drawing audiences to theatres.
Despite consecutive disasters, Ravi Teja’s connect with the masses worked its charm on the audiences. Even with the Tamil original Thadam being available on a popular OTT platform, Red has surprisingly managed to hold well in theatres, capitalising on Ram’s winning momentum after iSmart Shankar. Master, with Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi in the forefront, even managed to cross the 100-crore mark in the original version.
The success of all these films indicates that the star-culture is here to stay. It is all the more a good reason and motivation for audiences to step into theatres in uncertain times. Another proof to the same is the letter that theatre-owners, distributors wrote to Salman Khan requesting the release of his film Radhe only in theatres, with a hope that it would spring life back into their business.
At least with the South Indian film industry, it is rather obvious that the boom of the direct-to-OTT releases was only a temporary reality. Even Nagarjuna, who initially okayed the direct-to-OTT route for Wild Dog earlier this year has begun negotiations with the streaming platform to ensure its release in theatres. The fact that every notable star in the Telugu industry has announced the theatrical release date of his film also tells you that theatres are the lifeline of Tollywood and you need stars to drive the business forward.