2017: The year that was for cinema

Telugu films in 2017: The prime debate

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A reduced window between theatrical and digital releases is giving scope for the film industry to rethink its approach to business

About four years ago when Kamal Haasan announced that his Viswaroopam would have a simultaneous release in theatres and across pay-per-view DTH services in the country, a storm had erupted. Theatre owners, distributors and a few producers said in unison that it would mean an end to the theatre business. The actor argued that DTH services were a new channel to reach a wider audience. Though the move never took off then, 2017 saw a resurgence of the debate. The digital releases of Telugu films within weeks of a theatrical release is leading to a gamut of discussions on how the viewer is at an advantage, how the producer views it as an opportunity to break even and how distributors end up losing in the bargain.

Digital Vs. celluloid

At a recent meeting, producer Suresh Babu pointed out how there are no easy solutions to the digital versus celluloid clash. One point’s clear though — the onus on bringing audiences to theatres is on an all-time high. In response to half a dozen films that hit screens every other week, the pattern of movie consumption has undergone a rapid change. Audiences are instinctively aware of what works for television and what’s better on the large screen and they are acting on their instincts.

Telugu films in 2017: The prime debate

In 2017, as never before, Telugu cinema witnessed a unique trend of digital releases even as the film was still running in theatres — Arjun Reddy, Raja The Great, Raju Gari Gadhi 2 and Karthi’s Theeran Adhigaram Ondru are proof of it. Nevertheless the digital releases were timed when footfalls in theatres were on the wane.

Highlights
  • Arjun Reddy was released on Amazon Prime on the 50th day of its theatrical run.
  • Karthi’s Khakee opened to a streaming portal in the fourth week of its release.
  • Rangasthalam’s digital rights were nearly sold for a ₹20 crore sum.
  • The most pursued route recently to break even for a Telugu film producer has been the digital rights, which sell more than satellite rights now.
  • Most Telugu movies are out on streaming portals before their television premieres.

How can the issue of reduced audience turnout at theatres be worked out? By keeping the digital rights under the wraps until the film is off theatres? The talk of a rare Baahubali or an Interstellar/Avatar doesn’t arise here, owing to the pure spectacular cinematic experience they provide on the big screen. There are crowds who trust the cinema hall high, so isnt it time filmmakers begin respecting the technical mettle of a product (backed by content of course) more to attract more audience to the hall?. That means a higher budget, something producers are wary about, in the light of box office disasters of a few big ticket films.

Strike a deal

Amazon Prime had shelled out nearly ₹ 20 crore to the makers of Ram Charan’s Rangasthalam for its digital rights at a time when financiers expressed increasing worry of the surmounting budget of the film. The producers have breathed easy with the deal, given the frequent release days and rising expenses. Sai Dharam Tej’s Jawaan, Winner, Nani’s MCA, Varun Tej’s Mister, Ajith’s Vivegam have all tied up with streaming portals well in advance, fetching good amounts to the producers. Such films are streamed online before the 50-day mark. International majors and exorbitant deals do sound good for films with a limited release, but isn’t this a medium made for the bigger screen?

An incident of improper planning surfaced when Vishal-Anu Emmanuel starrer Thuparivaalan had released legally in a streaming portal even as the actors were promoting the Telugu version Detective’s release across theatres. A similar issue cropped up for Karthick Naren’s 16, the Telugu version was running to packed houses until the Tamil version’s online release; it spelt doom for exhibitors here. The availability of quality subtitles meant that the film clicked only in the two-tier/three-tier centres (which clearly weren’t its target audience).

Digital releases are not sole reasons for audiences skipping movies in theatres. Rising costs of a multiplex experience - with high ticket rates and exorbitant food prices, bills in addition to traffic hassles all act as deterrents. Besides electronic devices that provide a near cinematic experience make it easy to wait and watch at home.

Larger window?

Telugu films in 2017: The prime debate

Clearly its time the distributor-producer-digital wings take a collective decision on what would the quick digital release mean to the industry — on how a larger window between digital and theatrical release may give a win-win situation for all. Though exclusive content like web-series, short films are being created for digital portals, perhaps more feature-length originals would shift the focus on films. The success of web series like Muddapappu Avakai, Mana Mugguri Love Story, Social is a testimony to the same.

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 7:31:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/telugu-films-in-2017-the-prime-debate/article22281359.ece

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