Did pay-per-view work for ‘Ka Pae Ranasingam’? What producer KJR said

Producer Kotpadi J Rajesh speaks to TNM about tackling piracy and perceptions in releasing his film online.
Vijay Sethupathi and Aishwarya Rajesh in Ka Pae Ranasingam poster
Vijay Sethupathi and Aishwarya Rajesh in Ka Pae Ranasingam poster
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KJR Studios recently released the Tamil film Ka Pae Ranasingam on Zee5 as a pay-per-view film. Priced at Rs 199, this is the first major south Indian film to opt for such a release since the coronavirus pandemic brought the film industry to a standstill.

The release and reception have been closely followed by industry insiders because of the uncertainty prevailing over theatrical releases. With cinema halls shut for over six months now, the Union government has announced guidelines for theatres to reopen. However, producers and theatre owners are unsure about the audience turning up without a vaccine in sight.

So far, several south Indian films have released on Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Zee5. However, Ka Pae Ranasingam aimed to attract not only the OTT crowd but also regular cinema-goers. A user can stream the film through DTH (direct to home) or by logging on to the Zee5 app or website. Once the payment is made and the user starts the film, it is available for six hours.

The film stars Aishwarya Rajesh and Vijay Sethupathi, and is about a young woman’s fight to get her husband’s body back from the Middle East after he dies in an accident there. Directed by debut filmmaker Virumandi, the film exposes bureaucratic red tape and is a hard-hitting social drama on how the government machinery treats the underprivileged. But though Ka Pae Ranasingam received mostly positive reviews, has that translated to ticket sales?

Speaking to TNM, producer Kotpadi J Rajesh says, “Oh yes! To be honest, pre-release, we were all apprehensive about this model because we don’t really have any examples to look up to. I was very confident about the content, but that does not always translate to money even with theatrical releases. Great films have sometimes failed to perform at the box-office. We did have our doubts if this model could become financially viable. But surprisingly, this has surpassed all our expectations. I cannot disclose numbers because Zee has a non-disclosure policy. But based on our internal discussions with them, I can say with confidence that with just the Tamil language release (dubbed versions in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam haven’t released yet) and the India DVD release (DVD release in other countries coming up in the next week or so), we’re already very positive that this film will set new records.”

Rajesh says that it will be unfair to reveal which method of viewing – DTH or app – the audience has preferred so far.

“All the DTH operators have been very supportive of this venture, and I wouldn’t want to rupture that by mentioning who’s doing better. Ulaganayagan Kamal Hassan tried this model of DTH release with Viswaroopam but he couldn’t do it for reasons we all know. I’m glad that five years later, I’ve taken the first step to achieve such a release with a film that has proved itself as good content and has won financially too. This is history in the making,” he says.

Rajesh admits that before the film release, most people in the industry thought the move was going to backfire.

“Before release, 90% of the industry felt I was making a mistake. That this was a bad move and a few ‘industry experts’ commented on it vocally. But post release, everything has changed. I’ve got calls from friends and foes that this release and the reception it’s got has opened new doors for all producers. People in the industry are glad and thankful about this step that we’ve taken. This victory is not just for me, it’s for the whole industry. Because now, there’s one more potentially viable avenue to explore,” he points out.

Although Rajesh is confident about Ka Pae Ranasingam making money, the film’s release was hampered by Tamil cinema’s biggest challenge, piracy. The film began streaming at noon on October 2, but within an hour or so, notorious piracy website TamilRockers had uploaded a copy of the film on their site.

Rajesh says that efforts are on to curb this menace.

“Piracy is the single biggest bane the film industry is facing; be it theatrical release, OTT or DTH. We have two teams (one in Mumbai and one in Chennai) to deal with piracy issues. People from all over social media and personal contacts have been sending us messages when they find a pirated link on any platform and we’ve been taking them down. Last Saturday, the day after release, the film was played on a local cable channel called Vaima Media in Rajapalayam. We went there directly to file a complaint and arrest the owner of the channel. Thanks to the Tamil Nadu Cyber Cell for acting on our complaint and taking quick action,” he says.

Rajesh adds that without the support of the public, it’s impossible to stop piracy.

“Tackling piracy is not an overnight job. Until people stop consuming and encouraging piracy, providers will not stop giving them fodder. If you scroll through any piracy related tweets we’ve made, you’ll find at least a handful commenting that the film is available on Telegram or YouTube. We can only humbly request the general public not to encourage such content theft and to respect the time and effort of hundreds of artists and technicians,” he says.

Although the film has received good word of mouth, several viewers felt that with a runtime of nearly three hours, it would have worked better on the big screen. Rajesh says that the team, in fact, is considering releasing the film in theatres too.

“Our team has already begun work on the theatrical cut of the film and following the Union government’s permit, if the state government also permits, we’re definitely hoping to release the film on big screens. The film was made for the silver screen and we’d love for people to watch it in theatres,” he says.

KJR Studios made an impactful debut into production with Gopi Nainar’s Aramm in 2017. The film starred Nayanthara in the lead and was a social drama, too.

Speaking about how he picks his projects, Rajesh says, “I believe in the rapport that I have with people. I trust and invest in people who I see some spark in. I have always wanted to do socially relevant, educative and impactful films – hence Aramm, Ranasingam. But I also want to do clean entertainers that audiences can watch with their whole families. However, at the end of the day, be it Aramm or Hero or Ranasingam, I’ve always stood by my choices. My upcoming projects – Dikkiloona, Doctor, Aalambana, Ayalaan and a few more in the nascent stages all fall within one of these two categories.”

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