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OTT platforms try their hands at theatrical film production in India: What does this move signal?

OTT platforms in India have been churning out interesting content for viewers, and have found greater acceptance amid the pandemic. What’s even more interesting is their quest to foray into not just web original films, but theatrical productions as well.

In a first for India, Amazon recently announced its decision to co-produce Akshay Kumar-starrer Ram Setu, which will release in theatres first and then head to their streaming platform. In the West, the same model was earlier followed by Netflix, which released films such as The Irishman and Marriage Story (both 2019) in theatres for a brief period before finally releasing them on the platform.

Amazon, on their part seems quite enthusiastic about their new venture. “Ram Setu is a movie which highlights a story from our rich Indian heritage. I am glad that with Amazon Prime Video, audiences across 240 countries and territories will be able to witness a story which is a symbol of our Indian culture,” says Vijay Subramanium, Director and Head, Content, Amazon Prime Video India.

Makers and experts see this as an eventuality by other OTT platforms as well. Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, who has helmed the web show, Bisaat: Khel Shatranj Ka, says, “It’s a logical business model for any OTT player. You would obviously think of film production because why would you invest in films which are always just going to be licensed? I would rather make and create my own Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) I am not surprised this is happening.”

Calling it a beneficial situation or all parties involved, trade expert Atul Mohan talks about the many rights the OTT platforms get to hold apart from the web viewing. “Whenever the film, satellite or OTT deal will be renewed, the platforms also stand to make money from that. It is a lifelong perpetual agreement, till each of the partner doesn’t exit from this contract. The OTT platform would also be a partner in the theatrical business of the film, and not only India, but overseas as well. In the case of Ram Setu, it is an Akshay Kumar film, it will make money at the box office,” he says.

Do experts think this model can sustain itself in India, also taking into consideration the current scenario where theatres are closed?

Producer Anand Pandit welcomes this move. “Entertainment is an ocean, they can try their luck. Being a big and mature player, I don’t see any reason why these streaming platforms should not do this. They are not doing this only during the pandemic times, they are trying it out for the longer innings. Earlier, corporates have also come into film production,” he reasons.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President – Films & Events at Saregama India Ltd, concurs and says, “I think OTT platforms venturing into the space of film production signify an intent that these platforms want to be involved closely in the business of making films from its very inception and not just be a conduit for distribution. Given that these platforms have deep funds and an appetite to establish its presence in the Indian entertainment market for a long term, I think this is a strategic move on their part and a trend that I can see burgeoning soon.” Hindustan Times

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