Streaming | Entertainment

Are big Tamil film production houses eyeing digital streaming market?

Archana Kalpathi   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

Cinema is as much a part of our lives as our morning cup of filter coffee.

With Over The Top (OTT) services growing in popularity and multiplexes cropping up across the city, this love affair is set to boom. Interestingly, four women from some of South India’s biggest film production families are leading the change.

OTT Rising
  • According to reports from Kotak Institutional Equities, OTT revenue is expected to hit $3.1 billion in India in the next four years, with an expected 500-550 million daily active users spending an average of 100 minutes per day. Currently, this is at 60-70 minutes per day.

Kalanithi Maran’s daughter, Kaviya, who is vice president, Sun TV Network Limited, is behind Sun NXT — the network’s streaming platform launched in June 2017 that offers over 50,000 hours of content.

But true scale is being attempted by the scions of AVM Productions and AGS Cinemas. The ‘AVM twins’, Aruna Guhan and Aparna Guhan Shyam, are piloting the brand into the digital world, while Archana Kalpathi is ensuring that AGS Cinemas’ onground presence is strong. We find out more:

Ready for OTT

Aruna Guhan (L) and Aparna Guhan Shyam

Aruna Guhan (L) and Aparna Guhan Shyam   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

Aruna Guhan & Aparna Guhan Shyam, Partners, AVM Productions

In a spacious room at AVM’s headquarters in Vadapalani, I find Aruna and Aparna, 30, poring over scripts and watching clips for a new web series. The two have been working here (part-time at first) since college — in an earlier interview with The Hindu, they’d spoken about sitting in “on script discussions” with their grandfather M Saravanan and spending time in every department.

But for the last five years, their eyes have been firmly fixed on streaming media. In 2014, when “not too many people were consuming movies online”, the duo released Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum (This Too Shall Pass) on YouTube. And though they were “a little ahead of the times”, the 55-minute film starring Sivaji’s grandson Shivaji Dev, did well. Today, they are thrilled about the huge demand for content in the OTT space.

“We are part of the millennial crowd and we understand what youngsters are consuming,” says Aruna, while Aparna, younger by 13 minutes, says access to multilingual content is one of the biggest advantages, as it has increased the market and audience.

Earliest film memory?
  • Aruna: It’s the same for both of us — dancing with Kajol during the shooting of Minsara Kanavu
  • Currently streaming?
  • Aruna: You, Jack Ryan and Money Heist. I’m almost through Tidy Up with Mario Kondo as well.
  • Aparna: I’m watching Homecoming, along with The Table and Eat the World with Emeril Lagasse.

“In terms of storytelling, it’s more realistic. Stories are also more viewer-driven,” she says, adding that in an industry plagued by online piracy and falling footfalls in cinema theatres, good content will draw more people who are willing to pay and watch.

All their brainstorming, however, hardly leaves them time for personal digital consumption. “We spend most of our time watching for work or research,” laughs Aruna. When they can, the sisters catch crime shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. They have also digitised all of AVM’s old films, from MPEG to the MP4 format.

Currently, they are scouting for fresh scripts. “We are not looking at any particular genre. But the story has to be different and match the values that AVM is known for,” says Aparna, even as Aruna states that they “are also talking to multiple OTT platforms simultaneously”. The first of their web series — with “a big director and an established actor” — will go live later this year.

So what does their grandfather think about the project? “When we discussed this idea he immediately felt it would do good,” concludes Aparna, smiling.

For the love of movies

Archana Kalpathi

Archana Kalpathi   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

Archana Kalpathi, CEO, AGS Cinemas

In stark contrast to Aruna and Aparna, 35-year-old Archana is staying away from OTT platforms for the moment. She has even turned down requests to produce web series because she is focussed on the core business: movie theatres and production.

She has a Masters in Computer Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and when she joined her father, Kalpathi S Aghoram, in 2006, her first move was to set up a multiplex in Villivakkam. When the Rajnikanth-starrer Kabali (2016) was scheduled for release, she donned the distributor’s hat to add footfalls to her new space. Today, she wears yet another hat, that of creative producer — of Thalapathy 63, the Atlee-directed under-production sports film starring actor Vijay.