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Homechevron_rightEntertainmentchevron_rightMoney is the magnet:...

Money is the magnet: Big screen barons join the OTT bandwagon


From being skeptical about every other form of entertainment available in town and considering it as an opposition, taking crowds away from a cinema hall, the film industry has now embraced all that goes in the name of entertainment. There were times when the arrival of a circus or a Ram Leela in a town were considered as major opposition to films playing in cinemas.

The film industry has faced many threats over the period of its transition to what it is today, a broad-based entertainment industry. With the arrival of the state owned-television channel, Doordarshan, came the first real perceivable threat. Doordarshan, with limited budget and resources and total dearth of talent on its rosters, used films and film-based programmes to capture its audience. On the Doordarshan programme menu about which the film industry was most touchy was its Sunday evening feature film slot. Sundays were meant for family outings which included taking in a movie and promised the best collections at the box office. A free film on television would be a big blow to the box office.

The irony of this situation was that the ones who supplied films to Doordarshan were the people from the same fraternity as the producers whose fresh films suffered. There were film producers who owned a number of film negatives and, even at the slabs of 3/4/5 lakh per telecast set by DD, it was an additional income and a windfall for these dormant assets.

The woes of filmmakers had just began. Because, video recorders and players followed soon after. Just attach a video player to your TV and watch what you liked, not what DD meted out (which was primarily insipid and juvenile except for film-based programmes). It was not that people watching old movies of their choice on the video format was such a problem. The problem was that the video also brought with it the scourge of piracy. The technique was moving too fast for the laid back and working at leisure film productions.

Technique was an alien concept to our filmmakers. The closest they came to anything close to technique was called Trick Photography where they excelled. Some great examples were found in old mythological films and from the latter day cinematographers like V. Durgaprasad (Nagina) along with Peter Pereira who did scores of films as special effects expert.

Technic made its way through TV. Especially with mythological TV serials like Mahabharat and Ramayan. Yet, the film producers' participation in TV medium was so limited, it was almost nonexistent. Dealing with Doordarshan was no better than doing so with other government departments. There were layers (touts) and due to the prevailing government policy, the officials were changed every three years or so. Someone from the tourism ministry would be the sanctioning officer the next time you walked in with a proposal!

Symbolically, the DD headquarters in Delhi was designed in a circular style. If you walked its passages, you went round and came back to the same spot where you started. I had a personal experience when I, along with my two associates, approached DD with a pilot of a proposed TV serial based on a real life Mumbai local train murder incident of a lady professor. (You shot a pilot episode at your risk). The officer in charge of approving serials was one lady, newly designated to the post. The pilot episode was showed to her and her stand was that, the episode does not convey the story!

In those days of 13 episode serials, the first episode was meant to project the characters and create a preamble. If one told the story in that itself, what would be left for the other 12 episodes? Well, this kind of unprofessionalism and a layer of touts kept the film producers away from DD. When the private channels started operating in India, not much had changed. You made a pilot, if approved, you made more episodes from your own money and waited for days on end for payments. The waiting arena was common for all, aspiring serial makers as well as the top film names. Add to that, budgets, again, were shoestring.

Yes, the only ones who benefitted from these TV serials were actors, some new and many out of job in films. The payments were in thousand but was on regular basis. Acting in TV serials was and is an arduous work. The actors made money but were never afforded the time to spend or appropriate it. There is a classic case of a popular woman TV anchor. Busy all day long with the money earned going straight to bank, she hardly knew her bank status. She was, like many other from her clan, just happy having work, being busy and knowing that they were getting paid. Being employed was the biggest security blanket for them, especially the ones who had been discarded by the film industry.

One fine day, this lady was surprised to learn and announced to her friends that her bank account had an accumulated sum of Rs 18 lakh and she had decided to buy a three BHK flat in an Andheri complex which boasts of many film folk!

There were some success stories on TV like Nukkad, Intezaar, Circus, Fauji (which gave the film industry Shah Rukh Khan), Buniyaad, Malgudi Days, Wagle Ki Duniya, Hum Log etc. But, yet, the mainstream filmmakers kept away from TV save for an exception like Ramesh (Sholay) Sippy and, may be a couple more. If at all, film people did anything for TV, it was mainly anchoring of shows. And, only stars could do that.

The film industry kept on adapting to technology which was mainly limited to filming and screening besides action filming, all thanks to digital era dawning. The rest remain static.

The exhibition trade moved by leaps and bounds as films took to Dolby and Digital filming and 3K and 4K projection systems. The filmmakers have only complied. If that is the way to make films, so be it. But, now, the film industry has suddenly come out of its cocoon. OTT (Over The Top) has entered the Indian entertainment market like a tidal wave. These OTT formats are putting the entertainment which had so far invaded your drawing and bedrooms, in to your palms. Pay-TV, the pay per view provider, was, probably, the precursor to this medium.

The OTT market is divided between two kinds of service providers: The ones which already own the content rights and the others, who are creating their own content besides acquiring whatever ready content is available in the market; but, concentrating more on new creation. The repertoire of those who already have a bank are ones like Eros Now, Sony Liv, Zee5, ALT Balaji, Hotstar while Amazon Prime and Netflix are busy adding to their Indian content big time. These two seem to be backing episode-based content
rather than features of shorter duration. Content on OTT may not always have huge budgets for promotion and has to depend mostly on appreciation followed by word of mouth carried by the initial viewer. That would help a programmes' popularity and episodic content gets that time lag to get the word out.

There are other players like Yupp TV, Voot, Jio, HOOQ, TVF Play, Q Net among others. MX player has just announced its arrival with a huge campaign in the media. Vue Clip is one more while expected soon to join is Shemaroo which also has a huge bank of content already. The demand, it seems, is on the original content and, towards this end, the giants like Amazon, Netflix, Hotstar seem to be better placed resources wise to sanction new content. Though, the others are adding to the new content, too.

What has attracted the regular filmmakers who, otherwise, kept away from TV: For one, it is the challenge to work on the subjects one could not take up either on TV or big screen. There is yet no censor on OTT content. (There was some hue and cry for the need of Censor following the content of Sacred Games which broke barriers in gore, abusive language and sex.)

The other factor is, and the most attractive to draw the mainstream makers is the financial arrangements. It is all taken care of and no risk factor is involved. Once a project is approved, it is a win win situation for the content maker. The platform has already attracted names such as Akshay Kumar, Priyanka Chopra, Madhuri Dixit, Anushka Sharma, Salman-Arbaaz Khan, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar, Saif Ali Khan, R Madhavan and Shah Rukh Khan.

While the OTT platform has many new generation aspirants in the making, thanks to the smartphone cameras and various workshops conducted to promote short film making, it will also bring back many talented but out of reckoning directors.

@The Box Office
*The latest release about a live-in relationship in a yet traditional part of India has been able to score well with the audience. Catering mainly to the youth, the film is an entertainer and sends the viewer back happy.

The film, which had an impressive opening weekend of Rs 31 crore, ended its first week with a tally of Rs 51 crore.

*Sonchiriya struggled to find an audience. Its release was rather ambitious with more than double the screens the film merited. The film has managed to collect a little over Rs five crore in its first week.

*Rajshri's Hum Chaar meets with a poor fate.

*Total Dhamaal continued to entertain. The film managed to add another Rs 36 crore in its second week taking its two week tally to Rs 126 crore.

*Gully Boy, despite its regional appeal mainly to western India, holds well elsewhere too thanks to its stars, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt. The film adds Rs 8.5 crore in its third week to take its three week total to Rs 133.5 crore.

*Uri: The Surgical Strike continues to hold its own as the film collects Rs 6.5 crore in its seventh week to take its seven week total to Rs 239.5 crore. For any film, even with big stars, to keep the box office going for seven weeks is a miracle in itself. This one has no big stars to boast of.

(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst)

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