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Lockdown drives streaming sites to add niche, foreign language cinema

Video streaming platforms are increasingly banking on niche, foreign language cinema, including those in Korean, Danish, French, Dutch, and Spanish to draw audiences in India. The covid-19 pandemic, which has forced people to stay at home, has exposed viewers in the country to more global content as they become comfortable with subtitles as well as stories that resonate with them.

Amazon Prime Video recently premiered Oscar winner Minari (Korean) while BookMyShow Stream has titles such as Another Round (Danish), I Remember You (Icelandic) and Heroic Losers (Spanish).

“India has always had a strong affinity towards local and home-produced content followed by the country’s love for Hollywood films, together constituting a majority of the market share. This meant foreign language films were unable to find a strong footing for a theatrical release here, until very recently, and that too in a limited fashion,” explained Ashish Saksena, chief operating officer, cinemas, BookMyShow. To be sure, Oscar winner Parasite was the first Korean film to manage a theatrical release in India last year.

“With the advent and subsequent adoption of OTT platforms, the accessibility to content from around the world has not only eased but also multiplied significantly. However, most of these platforms offer television series, thus leaving a huge vacuum for feature films in foreign languages,” Saksena said adding that BookMyShow Stream aims to address this gap as it brings titles from countries such as Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Slovakia and the Netherlands.

The covid-19 lockdown has taught OTT platforms two things, said Mehul Gupta, co-founder and chief executive officer at SoCheers, an independent digital agency. “While regional language content is key to acquiring mass subscribers, international programming appeals greatly, especially to a young, 18-34 age group that is looking to consume content in languages beyond English. It’s also a strategy to keep up the volume game and continue generating fresh offerings,” Gupta said. Locally produced originals are currently facing a lag as lockdown has led to shooting being suspended.

Svetlana Naudiyal, director of content at MUBI, India, a streaming platform dedicated to niche, indie cinema that introduces a new offering everyday and launched in the country in 2019, said the service now has members from all over the country and not just from metropolitan areas. MUBI releases such as Bacurau (Portuguese), Ema (Spanish) and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (French) were among the most viewed titles on the service in India over the past year.

A Netflix spokesperson said people love great stories and this is an exciting time for stories in any language to be successful anywhere. “The language barrier is lowering and more audiences are discovering great stories made by the world with high-quality subtitles and dubs—from Hindi dramas to Tamil thrillers to Korean romantic comedies to Spanish action dramas,” the person added. After English and local language content, Spanish, Korean and Japanese titles drive the highest viewing on Netflix in India.

“One of the first myths that popularization of world cinema has busted is that foreign language titles are niche and arty, thus appealing only to a certain section of audiences. With the growing awareness for non-English cinema, audiences have realized that similar to India and Hollywood, most countries have a thriving theatrical business with films made across all genres,” Saksena said. Almost 15% of Hollywood films are remakes of popular foreign language films, he added. Live Mint

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