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Kannada film industry’s OTT conundrum

Kannada filmmaker Pawan Kumar’s maiden web series, ‘Kudi Yedamaithe’, premiered on Aha on July 16. Aha is a streaming platform that offers only Telugu content. When the teaser of ‘Kudi Yedamaithe’ dropped on YouTube, there was a huge demand for its Kannada dubbed version.

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“Aha only produces Telugu content. So there will not be a Kannada dubbed version of ‘Kudi Yedamaithe’. Perhaps, it’s another reminder that there is a need for an OTT platform for Kannada content,” Pawan said in a YouTube video. The makers added Kannada subtitles for the series.

The Kannada film industry is yet to make a mark in the OTT market. Ever since the streaming revolution began in India in 2016, Sandalwood has had only a few big moments.

“What we are lacking are business-minded people who can put money to start an OTT site for Kannada films,” says Pawan, whose ‘U Turn’(2016) was the first-ever Kannada OTT release when it dropped on Netflix.

Pawan’s Filmmakers United Club (FUC), launched last year, is struggling after a promising start. “We wanted to see if a community-driven platform of filmmakers can be run. The mathematics was if one lakh people out of our six crore population put Rs 1,000 a year, then they allow a platform to grow. With that, we would have been able to give six-seven good films. The idea was to create a platform with community support,” he explains.

Adarsh Eshwarappa believes in the old adage of content is king. His ‘Bhinna’ scripted history to become the first-ever Kannada direct-to-OTT release, when it premiered on Zee5. Purple Rock Entertainers, the film’s producers, earned two and a half times their investment through the deal. The film has so far enjoyed around 13 million views.

“In Malayalam, there is a perfect marriage between a star such as Fahadh Faasil and good scripts. That’s why their films get great reception. We need more quality content creators,” notes Adarsh, whose debut film ‘Shuddhi’ streamed on Netflix.

Kannada cinema entered Amazon Prime Video with the Danish Sait-starrer ‘Humble Politician Nograj’ (2018). The movie was produced jointly by Pushkara Mallikarjunaiah, Rakshit Shetty, and Hemanth M Rao. Since then, Pushkara’s films (‘Katheyondu Shuruvagide’, ‘Avane Srimannarayana’ and ‘Bheemasena Nalamaharaja’) have had a consistent association with Prime Video.

The ace producer has an interesting take on the issue. “Kannadigas and people in Maharashtra watch content of all languages. They are language agnostic. The Tamil and Telugu-speaking people hesitate to subscribe to a Kannada original. So the OTTs don’t invest on Kannada originals,” he opines.

“Our production house has a writing team of 20 people. We aim to generate content and give at least two OTT originals from our banner next year,” he adds.

Story since pandemic
Four Kannada films had direct-to-OTT releases in 2020. All were on Prime Video. While ‘French Biriyani’ and ‘Bheemasena Nalamaharaja’ opened to mixed responses, ‘Law’ and ‘Mane Number 13’ were panned by the audience.

The Kannada comedy-drama ‘Ikkat’, which also released on Prime Video earlier this week, was widely praised.

Fresh hope
‘Katte’ is an upcoming OTT platform dedicated to Kannada and languages native to Karnataka. It will have 15 segments to cover drama, music, comedy, and travel at Rs 499 a year. The biggest complaint from streaming giants is that there are fewer Kannada consumers. It remains to be seen if ‘Katte’ makes an impact or not. Deccan Herald

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