How regional producers are struggling during COVID-19

We have been subjected to further extension of COVID-19 lockdown. By now we all have got used to the situation with right from the PM and CM issuing the do’s and don’ts of the coronavirus; they also are asking us to be at home and "entertain" ourselves by TV/OTT entertainment. It’s such irony and the truth is that every time any catastrophe strikes us, including the world wars in the past, the one thing that has kept us all engaged and "alive" is this very "entertainment".

I am happy to be one of the members of this cult of the vast film industry that’s spread across the pan world and in India and regionally.

As a filmmaker, I am being very honest that I was lucky till today that I never had to bear the brunt of any catastrophe until this Covid-19 struck on me literally. My maiden film ‘Abaani CD's release got terminated by a sudden lockdown announced by the government. Only to prove that nothing is ever constant in this whole evolving world and for filmmakers whose films were aligned for a mid-March release came to a screeching halt. March and April have been witnessing a maximum release every year especially in the Marathi region and even this year was jam-packed by about eight Marathi films and two big Hindi movies. Abaani Cd was slotted in the premium category due to the presence of two stalwarts: Amitabh Bachchan and veteran Vikram Gokhale. However, our misfortune was that we could not compete and are now almost subjected to no release or have a digital release.

So how does one cope up with situations like this and what are the situations ahead for us all? One thing is sure that cinema has really evolved a lot from big screen to an idiot box to computers and now on to your mobile phones- OTT. So all of us are now subjected to an OTT release and the ones who can afford to wait can re-align the release until this whole drama fizzles out. But I have my doubts about people turning up to theatres as China is one of the biggest cinema markets which had to shut theatres after the COVID-19 attack. So the impact is not only on the filmmakers but also on the theatres, exhibitors as well as the distributors.

The second larger issue is that even if there are many OTTs in the market stacked up with over 5000 hours of entertainment already, I am unsure if they would want to go out and buy additional content. The question arises on how much of focus would be on the regional cinemas is a task in itself. Now coming to the selling of the satellite rights, this is one area which I feel can work for filmmakers if they are willing to go in for a world premiere on television. In a scenario where the filmmaker chooses to go for a standalone television premier, he would be subjected to only revenue sharing by digital mediums. "Pay per click" as televisions and OTTs’ audience is almost the same and hence the digital platforms will never buy it by paying a license fee and instead choose the other option.

The only ray of hope is that you choose any platform to be it TV or OTT at least will be assured that it will be watched but again my statistics don't make me happy as at the max if the content is above average or good at the max you shall get an audience of until 10 lakhs on OTT and about 50 lakhs on television, so not even 10% of the total population of Maharashtra will watch it.

The answer to this frankly lies in how we would make films in future and how are we going to secure it, especially Marathi cinemas? One should sell the film as early as possible to an established platform and secure your cost of the project, second is lower the cost of the projects are best suited for these situations and the third is to start making cinemas for home experience by keeping the production expense low and add a certain margin to give it away permanently.

However, if luck is your way none of the above situations can affect you and the answer to that is “the content!”. Whatever be the scenario if your project is good, be ready to earn from home.

The author is a film producer, brand imaging expert, business incubator, head of talent management and a philanthropist. The views expressed are that of the author and may not subscribe to them

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