Disney+Hotstar launches Multiplex with Uday Shankar, Akshay Kumar, Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan and Varun Dhawan. (photo provided)

MUMBAI —The Disney+Hotstar channel, a leading web platform, hosted a virtual press conference to announce “Multiplex” featuring seven Hindi film releases in the months to come, beginning July.

The press conference featured top guns Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, as well as Abhishek Bachchan and Alia Bhatt. Uday Shankar, president, The Walt Disney Company APAC and Chairman, Star & Disney India, was present and the meeting was moderated by Varun Dhawan.

The stars released the first posters of their online releases and spoke a bit about each. “Dil Bechara,” featuring the late Sushant Singh Rajput, will release in July, followed by “Laxmmi Bomb,” “Bhuj: The Pride of India,” “Big Bull” and “Sadak 2.” Also coming up with be Kunal Khemu’s “Lootcase” and Vidyut Jammwal’s “Khuda Haafiz.” Symbolically, before the announcements of these specific films, the stars ceremoniously sounded the clapper board as they do on film sets. And this pack has been ingeniously called the “Disney+Hotstar Multiplex.”

Quotes by the stars:

Akshay Kumar:

“In over 150 films, “Laxmmi Bomb” is the most mentally intensive film I have done and I have given the maximum retakes here. It has taught me so much about gender equality and that we have to be kind and not cruel to everyone. I give full credit to my director Raghava Lawrence for the way this film has turned out. Yes, I wear a saree in this film fairly gracefully and I think that the saree is the most graceful outfit in the world, in the way it fits everyone. It was difficult to walk, dance, fight and so on while wearing it and hats off to women who manage it. In fact, I think all men should try wearing it for a while to realize this!”

Ajay Devgn:

““Bhuj: The Pride Of India” is a remarkable real-life story of how just four people managed to turn the tide in the 1971 war with Pakistan. We have tried to make a good film.”

Pooja Bhatt:

“My “Sadak 2” is a continuation of the story of “Sadak,” wherein Ravi (Sanjay Dutt) meets two other characters. In the first film, the villain Maharani was highly appreciated, and this time also, we have a different surprise as a villain. For me, it was an emotional journey as our entire family—my father Mahesh, sister Pooja and I were coming together. I would love watching my father’s films as a kid, and would hear compliments on their great music, and I am so thrilled that now I am a small part of what is known as the “Bhatt camp’s great music.””

Abhishek Bachchan:

“Ajay (Devgn)-sir has always called me for special occasions, like “Bol Bachchan” that he co-produced, like “Big Bull.” This too is a special film for me and it is about how money can only be earned by hard work.”

Dhawan kept the opening light as he asked everyone how they spent their time at home. Here is a summary of their statements.

Akshay Kumar: “Varun, this is the first time in over 20 years that I have been so free. In this time, your father (director David Dhawan) and I would have completed a few films each!! But, yeh zindagi na milegi dobara (we have to give life the maximum priority). I have employed this time playing Ludo. Monopoly and hide-and-seek with family and kids, watching many films and web series, shooting two videos, hosting a virtual concert, and shooting two ads to some earn money and so on.” (Kumar steered clear of his extensive philanthropic activities in this phase.)

Abhishek Bachchan: “It was wonderful to spend so much time with the family, which we rarely get to do. But we have to try and be positive even as I am dying to get back to work.”

Alia Bhatt: “I practiced meditation and breathing exercises. I always wanted to learn the guitar and did so, but it was really tough. It was not easy also to stay calm but I think I have emerged stronger from inside. I also watched great content on the web.”

Ajay Devgn: “I spent a lot of time with my kids and also watched many shows every day in my own space—something I do for at least 60 to 90 minutes all these years.”

Varun then asked everyone their views on the Indian habit of First Day First Show or the magic of the movies, vis-a-vis new films streaming on OTT.  

Akshay: “It was a ritual in our family that, every Saturday, we would watch a movie together. We did not have much money but we would miss food but not a film, eating the famous Guru Kripa samosa and a mango stick while in the movie hall. I thank each and everyone who misses their favorite hero in the theatres today. But we have to accept what we have to change with this situation. And we can still have a virtual date with family, friends or anyone we love at home. The advantage is that the show time and interval is our decision, but we will have to make the popcorn, though we will get food of our choice!”

“But now, I see no difference. Though it may be a bit sad for theatres, as movies are their birthright, safety is important and I can make my fans happy, I am glad to release a film even if the platform is different.”

Ajay: “I think that for both the audience and the industry this balance of some films in the movie halls and some at home will be good for the industry. We will get to make and watch more and more films and different ones as well. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I also own a chain of theatres and I see nothing negative in offering the viewers a wider choice and more films, and thus more work for everyone in the industry, especially those who have no work. How does the platform matter?”

The last word was by Uday Shankar, who said, “I think that films primarily are a viewer’s birthright! I think in the long run, the industry will become bigger and more successful. This is a great opportunity to create an alternative way of exhibition.” 

“There was a similar fear when new films began to be seen on TV, but soon they co-existed and first earned from theatres and then from TV. This will be a new world and a new lease of life. It will not be a short-term tactical exercise but a huge outlet with 50 crore Indians having access to smartphones and Disney-Hotstar being huge even in Tier III cities and small towns, with our repertoire including Indian and foreign films, sports, Star TV serials and more. I think the future will be very bright and one plus one will become four.”

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