The journey from an audio and video cassette rental to launching an OTT platform: Saina’s journey in entertainment

‘Punjabi House’  

The closest PM Bava, a machinist from Kalady near Kochi, came to films was when he opened a video rental and distribution business, Saina Audio Video Vision at Kodambakkam, Chennai. The year was 1985, when the city was the hub of the South Indian film industry.

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Malayalis of a generation got their dose of Malayalam cinema from video cassettes hired from video rentals, and Saina was prominent among companies that made, marketed and distributed these. The red and yellow logo — Saina — with the letter S figuring prominently — was a familiar one. Saina is one of the few video cassette companies that have survived the times.

Cut to May 2021, when Saina Audio Video Vision launches its OTT platform Saina Play, which will stream the 700-odd Malayalam films besides new content. Saina has the rights to all the content it will stream. Some of the films that will be in their platform are Malayalam’s biggest blockbusters such as Manichitrathaazhu, Punjabi House, Vadakkumnathan, Chandrolsavam and Kurukshetra.

“We have been working on the logistics of an OTT platform since 2018. It was the inevitable next step for us,” says Aashiq, Bava’s son. “We identified technical glitches which we wanted to set right; others who rushed into it have encountered problems for instance with either streaming or the payment gateway. We wanted to be prepared when we launched,” Bava says.

The OTT platform is the culmination of a journey that started in 1985 with a trip to Singapore, from where he brought back a video cassette recorder/player and four video cassettes of Tamil films. All that he had seen on the trip and the VCR set him thinking, “After I finished watching the four cassettes, there was nothing else to watch. At the time film cassettes were made in West Asia, Dubai specifically. These were brought back to India, distributed by companies here. That made me think ‘why not start a VCR-cassette rental business here?’”

PM Bava with son, Aashiq

PM Bava with son, Aashiq  

He started the rental business from a shop adjacent to his brother’s electrical shop in Vadapalani, and later branched out into distribution and manufacturing video cassettes as well. Over time he graduated from video cassettes to audio tapes, then CD (compact disc), VCD and DVD. The business is now based in Kochi.

“In 1995, when we brought out the CDs of Manichitrathaazhu, the first Malayalam film in the format, we sold exactly 20 pieces. In 2006, we sold, in association with Moser Baer, 2.5 lakh CDs and one lakh DVDs of Vadakkumnathan. That is how the market changed. That said, at around ₹20,000, CD players were also expensive as were CDs. But the market has grown exponentially since then,” Bava says.

Embracing technology

Initially, he did not have copyright to films nor was anyone in the film industry particular about it. However, over time, he understood the advantage of acquiring it.

Among the first films that he acquired the rights for in the early 1990s were Vidyarambham and Vyuham. “We ensured that we had the rights to everything we put in the market,” he says. Malayalam films were their core though they have some Tamil titles too. Although he does not want to mention figures of video and audio rights of a film he says, “They have grown 20 times in the 35-plus years that I have been in the business.”

Lot’s in a name
  • I have been asked several times who Saina is - whether it is my mother or my wife and even daughter. I started the business way before I got married. Saina is from Sainaba, my sister — PM Bava

The secret of staying current, Bava says, “is being updated about trends across the world. Technology changes constantly and you have to be on top of your game. I was aware of the changes, television screens getting wider, high-definition, Blu ray...and accordingly adapted.”

This explains why he brought out Manichitrathazhu in CD format even as India was just waking up to the potential compact discs. “Those days an Audio CD cost ₹ 300 and VCD (video cd) ₹ 600. Initially we had the video CDs replicated in New York, West Asia and Singapore. We bought the CDs from Hong Kong.”

Eventually he found a manufacturer in Gujarat. The first Malayalam film, Punjabi House, in DVD format, was brought out by Saina, in association with Prasad Studios. A 10 year tie-up, in 2006, with Moser Baer gave Baer access to marketing Saina’s titles. The accent was on numbers, as prices of CDs dropped to ₹20-40 they sold more. Bava says it justified acquiring rights, “otherwise what is the point [of owning the rights]?”



Understanding the potential of the internet, Saina launched its YouTube channel that year in 2006, primarily for films; a decade earlier Bava had bought internet rights of hits such as Abhimanyu and Devasuram. “We understood the potential of the Net, and how it would grow. I was aware of the changes, television screens getting wider, high-definition, Blu ray...and accordingly adapted.” Pazhassiraja (2009) was the first Malayalam film in the Blu-ray format brought out by Saina for Moser Baer.

It was, then, inevitable that when OTT platforms arrived in India that Saina also looked in the direction. Cheap internet data and access to entertainment on mobile phone devices changed the entertainment scene and Saina made moves in the direction. The pandemic anyway spelt the end of the DVD business which was already on its last leg.

Being in a business closely connected with films, why hasn’t he ventured into the industry as a producer? Bava laughs, “The success stories we hear about are only 10% of reality. The other 90% that we don’t hear about are those of failure and people who lost everything.”

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 2:49:08 AM |

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