A new trend observed is OTT platforms rushing to acquire the broadcasting rights of big banner movies helmed by prominent names in the south Indian film industry.

A poster from Malayalam film Marakkar featuring actor MohanlalMohanlal/ Facebook
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When the theatrical release of Malayalam star Mohanlal’s Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham was announced in 2019, fans couldn’t wait to watch the movie in theatres. A historical war film, Marakkar is said to be the first Malayalam film to be made with a budget of approximately Rs 100 crore. Shot with grand sets, Marakkar features an impressive cast of actors including Manju Warrier, Prabhu, Keerthy Suresh, Pranav Mohanlal, Mukesh, Nedumudi Venu and Siddique, among others. It took many by surprise when after weeks of talks about a theatrical release, producer Antony Perumbavoor finally announced that the movie will release on Amazon Prime Video. Will Marakkar recover its huge costs? That is the question on everyone’s minds.

TNM has learnt that Amazon Prime Video bought the OTT rights for the movie for an amount between Rs 60-70 crore, which is more than half the film’s budget. Marakkar’s TV rights in all languages have also been finalised at the cost of around Rs 25 crore with two television networks, sources told TNM. With these deals, however, the makers may fall short of Rs 5-6 crore in earnings to make up for their budget. If the movie has a hybrid release – that is, a combination of OTT/TV/theatres – it is most likely to recover all costs.

It is no surprise that Amazon Prime has coughed up crores to buy the rights to Marakkar. A major trend that industry experts have seen is that OTT platforms are pursuing movies helmed by big stars and known faces, as it results in more subscribers signing up. A top director told TNM that Amazon Prime Video had seen a massive influx of subscribers who were waiting to watch Mohanlal’s Lucifer. So the platform has been in talks with the makers of Marakkar to get its OTT rights, looking to similarly gain from the star’s new movie.

Similarly, Amazon Prime Video is said to have garnered a host of new subscribers eager to watch popular Tamil actor Suriya’s latest movie Jai Bhim, which has received a great response from audiences and critics alike. Therefore, OTT platforms are eyeing big stars who can help them widen their subscriber base as well.

Update: Mohanlal's Marakkar to release in theatres 

Speaking to TNM, Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, founder of Malayalam OTT platform Koode, explained how streaming platforms have had success with OTT deals for big budget projects. “Big budget movies with huge star casts have typically worked well for these large OTT platforms. When it comes to regional language movies, it is only about the money they are willing to spend since the market size is smaller compared to Hindi,” he said.

Speaking further about OTT deals for Malayalam movies, Radhakrishnan quipped, “Considering the fact that Malayalam movies have been able to garner a pan-Indian audience, I’m not surprised that Amazon is willing to spend big bucks on Marakkar. Kerala also happens to be a key market for Amazon for its core e-commerce business.”

However, Malayalam and Tamil film industry tracker Sreedhar Pillai told TNM that the same thumb rule cannot be applied to all movies. “Marakkar was a unique case because the film couldn’t be released in theatres for two years and so the producers chose OTT. We also saw a big budget film like Sooryavanshi (Hindi film starring Akshay Kumar) going in for a theatrical release, probably because OTT platforms couldn’t match the budgets.”

Marakkar: Arabikkadalinte Simham was slated for theatrical release multiple times before the producers decided to go the OTT way. The movie was originally scheduled to release in theatres on March 26 last year but like many other films, the makers couldn’t do so due to the coronavirus pandemic. The makers then announced a release date of March 26 this year, but once again they had to postpone the release. After being slated for release again on May 13 and subsequently on August 12, producer Antony Perumbavoor announced that the makers are opting for a direct OTT release.

Radhakrishnan said that OTT was perhaps the best option the makers of Marakkar had. “I wouldn’t be able to comment on specific cases like Marakkar – about how much of the overall budget was covered by Amazon. But considering the high budget and huge costs of borrowing, I’m quite sure that this was probably the best option that Marakkar’s producers had.”

Mohanlal has proven time and again that he is the king of the box-office in Malayalam cinema. He set the highest box-office record in 2016 for Pulimurugan after it became the first Malayalam film to join the Rs 100 crore club. Once again in 2019, his movie Lucifer became the highest grossing Malayalam film after its box-office collections crossed Rs 200 crore. Industry trackers and analysts were hoping for Marakkar to set new records, since it is the first Malayalam film to be made with a budget of Rs 100 crore according to the makers.

Sreedhar also observed that currently many producers decide whether the movie is going to release on OTT or in theatres and tailor the budget accordingly instead of making a big budget movie and waiting for OTT platforms to offer good deals. “When it comes to upcoming movies, if producers want to rope in big stars they first figure out if they want to go for an OTT or theatrical release. Because, the salary of big stars is fixed regardless of whether the movie is going to premiere online or on the big screens. If they are not able to get OTT deals that match the cost price, producers will end up incurring losses.”

Although big budget movies like Marakkar are getting good offers from streaming platforms, it is unclear if the numbers are close to the anticipated box-office collections of these movies. “While quoting their price to OTT platforms, producers usually quote a number that’s a little over the cost price. They don’t really include the anticipated profits/ openings the film might have had in the case of a theatrical release. This is also because after the coronavirus outbreak, it has become difficult to predict how movies will perform in theatres and whether it will manage to pull audiences back to cinema halls,” Sreedhar said.

(With inputs from Sanyukta Dharmadhikari)

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