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Sibi Arasu | Updated on August 27, 2014

Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum

Pawan Kumar   -  K Murali Kumar


The business of film distribution is slowly, but surely, unspooling on the internet with rich pickings for indie and big producers alike

In Vadapalani, the heart of the Tamil film industry, Kollywood, is the country’s oldest film studio and production house, AVM. Earlier this year, AVM, which has produced more than 175 films since the ’30s, decided to experiment with a new distribution system.

The film Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum, produced by the studio’s fourth-generation scions Aparna and Aruna Guhan, was released not in theatres but on the internet. The 55-minute film, interspersed with seven 30-second ad slots, could be viewed online for free. “It was a big risk to release it online,” says Srihari Prabaharan, who had co-directed the film with Anil Krishnan. “But the studio wanted to test the waters with a new business model, and decided to go the online way.”

While it may be a first for a major production house, online distribution has been gathering steam for a while now.

Indie on internet

Over the last few years, independent filmmakers have taken to online distribution with a vengeance and been rewarded with great payback. Among the biggest-ever hits in Kannada is the 2013 film Lucia, which experimented with a pre-order online distribution model. “The viewers became their own distributors, and it turned out to be really successful for us,” says the film’s director, Pawan Kumar. “In this model, every time the viewer recommended our film to someone who ended up watching it, they got a share of the revenue we made out of the viewing charge.”

While Lucia had a fairly successful run in theatres in its home State and in the festival circuit, internet distribution alone fetched it more than ₹52 lakh. “Internet distribution will become a staple for all the future films I make,” says Kumar.

Rajat Kapoor premiered his film Aankhon Dekhi on the site Spuul for international audiences. “For the last six to eight years, we have been hearing that digital distribution will change the face of film revenue models and we are all hoping this will happen sooner or later,” he says. In 2007, Vivah from Rajshri Productions was the first Bollywood film to be released online.

“As of now, the digital distribution model is more about reaching audiences than about revenue. And to that extent, I think it works well. People from across the world can see the film, which would otherwise have been unavailable to them, or they would have watched a pirated copy,” says Kapoor. Striker, F.A.L.T.U and the Abhay Deol-starrer One by Two were among the other Hindi films released online.

Level playing field

“It’s too early to say if this is the start of a new film distribution trend,” says Bollywood producer Guneet Monga, who is the co-founder of Sikhya entertainment and a close associate of filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. “While the theatrical release has been, and will continue to be, the primary mode of film distribution, the online platform and the trend of building online content can also co-exist, and momentum is already picking up.”

Yet another advantage online is that it allows filmmakers to subvert restrictions imposed either by the censor board or the increasingly strident moral police. The challenge, however, is in convincing an audience accustomed to pirated copies to pay for watching online and thereby convincing big-ticket producers that it is viable. “I know it’s a cliché, but the internet is the medium of the future when it comes to film distribution,” says Sunil Doshi of Mumbai-based Alliance Media and Entertainment. “The Web offers the most convenient, utility-based service for the consumer. When you’re making internet your distribution platform, it’s no longer a geographical group that is your target audience but a community and, ultimately, it is bound to have a wider reach.”

And for filmmakers like Kumar, the future is the Web. “For independent filmmakers like me, especially in regional cinema, a theatrical release usually results in more of a loss since they don’t let the film stay in the halls long enough,” he says. “On the internet, no one can eat up the other’s space and we can co-exist with the big production houses. And the viewer has multiple options.”

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Published on July 25, 2014
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