Back to the Future

Bold themes and an ever-increasing internet penetration make a solid case for releasing films online. Web becomes particularly important in current times when filmmakers are toying with bold subjects and catch-lines never encountered before. If the subject is politically sensitive, taking the film to the public becomes challenging, and at times, even more daunting than making the film. Lack of resources is another factor that constrains independent filmmakers and makes them rely on the Internet. To generate revenues from movies, Indian filmmakers need to follow the US model and make them available on the internet so that fans can watch the content on the device they choose, anytime, everywhere.

Sudhish Kamath made ”That Four Letter Word” with three-and-a-half lakh rupees. After managing a limited theatrical release of the film in Mumbai and Chennai, Kamath put it online for free viewing.

“Films earlier mostly catered to people belonging to the lowest common denominator. For the last 10-15 years, the audience has explored a wider spectrum of films and cultures thanks to the Internet. This helped bring about a change in the kind of films we are making and watching,” said filmmaker Indranil Roychowdhury.

Present Scenario

There are two kinds of films in Bengal, class movies and mass movies. Classy films would include films like Proloy, Jaatishwar, Apur Panchali, Baishe Srabon and so on, and massy films include Challenge, Shotru and Borbaad. Let us examine the content and execution of recent Bengali films that claim to be serious, as opposed to the frivolous commercial product that is made up of physical violence -sadistic beatings, murder and rape are staples – blind faith in religion, and in the invincibility of state power as represented by the police, which can be mocked lightly or heavily as the situation demands but must be submitted to in the end. There is also the treatment of women as sex objects that can be deified in a trice. Patriotism, covert and overt, is often an important ingredient.

Bengali Cinema is also undergoing a change

Bengali cinema has always played a significant role and has contributed a rich body of work to the Indian film industry. Known for producing cinematic gems over the decades , the picture changed during 1980-90s when a clear distinction was formed between commercial films and art films. The audiences for both categories were also clearly defined. However, with time situations and the quality of work has changed for the better.

With more and more Bengali films gaining recognition and appreciation at film festivals and getting prestigious awards, the Bengali film industry is still in its growing stage.

“Distributorship is being monopolised in Bengal. People are trying to make money, not movies,” said Mr. Suman. “My film [ Phoring ] may make money for TV channels but it failed at the box office. My film is also a super hit on the Internet. Commercial viability of a film depends greatly on how a film is marketed,” said Mr. Indranil Roychowdury.

Rising up to the new Challenge

According to IAMAI report, there are 149 million active internet users in India in 2013.The advent of internet has changed the way information on films is delivered to users in India. In the recent years, convergence and cross platform marketing activities are increasingly becoming the norm in India. This poses a big opportunity for Bengali films as social media provides a more cost effective means to promote films prior to release compared to traditional promotions.

The demand to watch films instantly has also increased drastically with the proliferation of internet. A digital distribution platform can capitalise on this and enable one to watch a film immediately. Some online digital distribution companies globally, let audiences watch a trailer on any internet platform, and provide instant option of pay per view or purchase the physical copy. This way a film is sold simply and effectively to those who want to see it without having to persuade a hall to book it, a retailer to put it on their shelves or a broadcaster to license and schedule it. The content maker also has the independence to set the price. In countries like India, where the potential audience is huge, even a minimal ticket price can glean huge returns and in turn reduce piracy to a large extent.

Hulu Movies

The report points out that the potential of the Bengali language is immense in terms of both quality and quantity. First, Bengali is the 7th most widely spoken language in the world. Secondly, 170 million people in Bangladesh and 100 million people in India have Bengali as their native tongue. Thirdly, Bengali cinema produces around 100 feature films every year, capable of drawing a massive audience. Bengali cinema can take pride in the international stature of filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghose and Rituparno Ghosh. However, the returns don’t reflect the potential.

Watch out for Emerging Business Models

The total investment in Bengali film industry is estimated to be around Rs 150 -180 crore, but the buoyancy in the investment is not matched by the growth in earnings in recent years.

The industry is valued at Rs 120-150 crores in terms of expected revenue in 2014 and has shown negligible growth over last year. According to industry estimates, not more than 10% of all films released in a year break even and only five or six generate enough surplus to be termed hits. This means 90% Bengali films are box office flops.

A concerted attempt is required to reach out to the greater ethno-linguistic group across different parts of the world other than US. Aggregated data on internet search for Bengali films reveal maximum queries generated from Bangladesh, Middle East, UK followed by US. At over 200,000 London alone has the largest concentration of Bengali speakers.

From a technology perspective, the US has taken on the rest of the world. With internet replacing linear TV, your content should be really be viewable on any device, anytime and everywhere. Moreover markets like UK, France and Germany in Europe, where Bengali cinema has high demand, has to be targeted by producers and directors. With regard to Bengali cinema, despite the profusion of films made nowadays, there’s a “disconnect” in availability of the movies for the three-and-a-half million Bengalis living abroad. We have services like BoxTV which is Internet’s online streaming video service. BoxTV licenses content from Indian movie producers across seven languages (including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, and Bengali) and makes it accessible across a wide range of platforms, taking into account the wide range of ways in which Indian consumers access the Internet. In addition to a Web site, BoxTV is available on iOS devices, Android phones and tablets, Kindle and TV-connected platforms like Roku, EvoTV and Woxi Pod. Bollywood producers providing content for BoxTV include UTV Motion Pictures, Shemaroo Entertainment, Rajshri Entertainment and Everymedia Technologies. Aside from Indian production studios, BoxTV has also signed contract agreements with Sony Pictures Television and Disney UTV, allowing its audience to gain access to Hollywood TV shows and movies like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Spider-Man” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

It leaves us with a broader outlook that focuses on understanding the emerging business models, importance of Internet and innovative viewer engagement methods that are vital for the growth of the industry. I am very interested in exploring films for the internet. I believe that is the future. The democracy of the net allows the audience to find your films rather than the film finding the audience.

Ref: CII- IMRB jointly unveils ‘Bengal Bioscope: A Big Picture Outlook for Sustainable Growth’ Dec 10, 2014, http://www.cii.in/

Best Regards,

Raj Kosaraju

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