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Are govt-run OTT platforms the answer?

Kerala, the first state to start a film academy in 1998, now has a new feather in its cap — a state-owned streaming platform.

The Kerala government launched India’s first ever government-owned OTT streaming services in March. Managed by the Kerala State Film Development Corporation (KSFDC), the initiative is aimed at supporting films with artistic and cultural value. Films winning state, national and international awards are streamed on the platform.

Thirty-five feature films, six documentaries and one short film are currently streaming. The platform operates on a pay per view basis. A feature film is priced at Rs 75. Half of this amount goes to the government, and the other half to the producer.

New approach
KSFDC chairman Shaji N Karun says the idea germinated in 2021 during the Covid 19 pandemic, when people began watching films on OTT.

“We wanted to create a cultural platform for cinema and expose the audience to films that win state awards and awards at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK),” the eminent filmmaker told Showtime. The catalogue now has films not available to watch anywhere else.

Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli calls it a great initiative. “Malayalam films have good visibility and viewership. The film academy there will be able to manage it efficiently,” the auteur says. In an era of big budget pan-Indian films, this OTT space could create a pan-India audience for quality films, he says.

A concern in recent months is that big OTT platforms, such as Netflix, which earlier supported independent cinema, are promoting only ‘commercial’ content. Filmmakers from across the country who win international accolades complain that their works find no takers.

“Cinema is valued for being socially relevant but of late it has become pure entertainment. So we thought let private entities enjoy their business but the government has the responsibility of creating culturally elevated citizens,” explains Shaji Karun.

Krishnendu Kallesh, who directed ‘Hawk’s Muffin’ (2022), a sci-fi fantasy drama that premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, was unable to sell it to any OTT platform. “Streaming services look only for mainstream content. In a way the state-run OTT space gives independent filmmakers a chance to showcase their films,” he says.

The payment is transparent — 50% goes to the producer, and a portion of the remaining 50% goes towards the government department that takes care of the welfare of film workers, explains Shaji Karun.

He expects the streaming platform also to act as a digital archive. “It’s like the film society movement,” he says. “It addresses the OTT space and slowly all states will come up with a model of their own.

Karnataka perspective
Kasaravalli says such an initiative is essential for the Kannada industry. “Leading OTT spaces are hesitant to buy Kannada films unless they are big hits. It is a sad situation,” he says. He believes the Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy, and the department of information and public relations should come up with innovative ways to promote Kannada films. “Nobody is paying any heed to this,” he rues.

He cited the example of how a Marathi TV channel had played a big role in boosting the Marathi film industry. “They produced films, released them in the theatres, and showcased them on their channel. Such initiatives are not happening in Kannada,” he says.

Kannada filmmaker Mansore is sceptical about an initiative like CSpace working in Karnataka. Kannada audiences are exposed to films from across the world, especially after dubbing into Kannada was resumed, and they may not go looking for Kannada-only content, he muses.

“With the exception of a handful of filmmakers, others are lagging in quality, and they make the audience feel they are stuck with outdated concepts,” he says. The quality of a majority of the 250-odd films released in Kannada every year is mediocre at best, he argues. “OTT means you can assess the entire world. Do we have an identity of our own to compete?” he says, reckoning that the Kannada ‘parallel cinema’ movement of the ‘80s has faded away. “We did not develop a strong arthouse cinema culture here, like they did in Kerala. So people watching good Kannada films like ‘Shivamma’ and ‘Pedro’ are few,” he says.

Mansore fears a government-run platform might end up encouraging undeserving films. “Take the case of subsidies. There are many filmmakers making a film for Rs 5 lakh and claiming Rs 10 lakh as subsidy,” he says.

Without a team of good curators, a platform such as CSpace will fail, he warns.

Changing strategy
“After a year, we will see the results and come up with new strategies on how to improve CSpace,” says Shaji Karun, who is working on bringing on the platform classics by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, M T Vasudevan Nair and Aravindan.

“Although I make films for the big screen, CSpace is a good idea. It brings hope for the future,” says V C Abhilash, director of the 2022 film ‘Sabaash Chandra Bose’. When his film started streaming on Amazon Prime Video in 2022, he was surprised by the reach it achieved and the enthusiastic response it received on social media. CSpace must be promoted better. It hasn’t attracted much attention in Kerala, he notes.

Tara Ramanujan, director of ‘Nishiddho’, a KSFDC production, thinks it will take time for CSpace to penetrate the market. “Blockbusters come on major OTT platforms. Films like mine have a festival audience, and the niche crowd doesn’t come to know about it unless it goes looking for it,” she says.

Bugs fixed
CSpace doesn’t appear in Google results when you search for streaming platforms, and the Kerala film authorities would do well to work on search engine optimisation. But a few glitches have been fixed since it was launched.The user interface is friendly and offers a trailer, synopsis and details, like on other streaming platforms. Navigation wise, it’s simple and intuitive. Deccan Herald

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