The advent of OTT (Over-the-top) platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime in the Indian entertainment market has changed the approach of both the audience and content creators. Although cable TV remains the cheapest option for the average Indian family, the increase in subscription of OTT merits attention.
As part of this notable growth, Amazon Prime launched an exclusive Kannada movies library on November 1, even as the state celebrated Kannada Rajyotsava. This indeed is a positive turn to Sandalwood's growth as many patrons were eagerly looking forward to this news.
For a parallel or art house film to do well in Kannada, it is dependent solely on multiplex audiences. This gives a film the much-needed marketing through word-of-mouth and positive reviews from popular film critics. Despite the quality in content, these films struggle to do well commercially. As OTT platforms function with an curative approach, the aforementioned category of films may start receiving the much-deserved commercial returns.
Speaking to TNM, Prashanth Raj who has directed and produced the film Orange, explains how he feels about his film being the first movie to be acquired by Amazon ahead of its theatrical release. He says, â€śAs filmmakers, it is our responsibility to widen the market of this industry. OTT platforms are one such opportunity. My film was the first one to be acquired by Amazon on a pre-release basis and this was an 8-month-long process. Iâ€™m very sure that this film will set a benchmark for other Kannada movies with respect to the OTT market. Considering that a big star like Ganesh plays the lead in my film, Orange is easily the biggest deal locked by Amazon in Sandalwood yet.â€ť
The exclusive Kannada library has over 20 films and Harivu, a 2014 national award-winning movie is one among them. Avinash U Shetty, the producer of Harivu says the time for the world to know the potential of Kannada films has arrived: â€śKannada movies are highly dependent on the satellite, dubbing and digital rights for its commercial returns. It is an inevitable fact that Kannada movies do not hold a strong market in other states or abroad when compared to movies of other south Indian languages. But this doesnâ€™t imply that our content lacks quality. These OTT platforms will let the world know what weâ€™ve got. I only hope that these platforms directly get in touch with the producers for collaboration because in my case, Harivuâ€™s satellite and digital rights were sold to a TV channel a few years back and they have sold it to Amazon now. Back then, we did not know the dynamics of digital rights, so it was done that way.â€ť
Diganth and Pooja Devariya starrer Katheyondu Shuruvaagide premiered on Amazon on November 1. Speaking about this, producer Pushkara Mallikarjunaiah says that he believes in embracing the innovations for the good of the industry like how the other languages do: â€śThis business move is not self-centred. I feel this is my contribution to the industry as other films in the future can open up to a wider audience. A Kannada film only gets a maximum of 300 screens across the country which is a very small number when compared to Tamil and Telugu films. OTT platforms play a vital role in this aspect as it will take our content to more people across the globe. Katheyondu Shuruvaagide has had an impressive opening on Amazon and so many people have messaged me about how they wish they had watched it in theatre.â€ť
As Pushakara mentioned, the other side to this story involves the traditional film viewers who believe in watching a movie in theatres, irrespective of its premiere on TV or any other platform. Though day by day such audiences are shrinking, the existing ones might take time to develop a liking for this technology.
â€śMalayalam industry is also a small one but very receptive to experimental and fresh content. Soon, I hope Kannada industry becomes like that and it does well across all platforms including theatres,â€ť he says.
There have also been discussions on Netflix planning to invest in a Kannada web series for quite some time now. If these speculations are true, the Kannada industry must brace itself to welcome a new generation of content creators who may be open to toying with new experiences, formats and user experiences.