OTT platforms cannot match the cinema experience: Shyam Benegal

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on May 18, 2020

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal   -  File photo: The Hindu


Just as the coronavirus pandemic was feared to sound the death knell for the movie theatre industry, the recent announcement by Amazon Prime Video to have seven new movie premieres on its platform added to its woes. But, the cinema offers a larger-than-life experience, which cannot be easily replicated by the over-the-top platforms, said veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal.

“Films can be seen by several means. However, going to the cinema hall adds an important dimension — it becomes a social occasion and a collective experience. The OTT platforms will clearly not match up with that,” Benegal said in an interaction BusinessLine. There will be a coexistence of both movie theatres and OTT platforms when it comes to movie releases, the 85-year-old Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner said. Edited excerpts:

People have been talking about a time when filmmakers will prefer to do deals with OTT platforms instead of movie theatre companies, especially with the recent announcement by Amazon Prime Video...

It’s a coming thing, clearly. The fact is that, particularly in major cities now, space constraints are such that you can’t really run cinemas successfully because it requires a certain number of people and a certain price to be able to break even. And this has become more and more of a problem because most people prefer to stay at home. It’s not a new thing (such emergence of new formats). It has been going on for the last 60 years, or maybe more. First came the cinemascope in order to get people to come into the cinemas. Once the television came, the entire equation of the cinema had changed. So then, in order to attract people to come into the theatres, you started having a much bigger screen size, then you had the surround sound…One thing after another, new things are brought in, in order to attract audiences, to make the experience more and more effective — because you are always comparing to television. The television came as a direct opposition to cinema, but using the same format — film format — with other additional dimensions and so many other things.

Therefore, the experience of the cinema continues to be of a completely different kind — nobody has been able to replicate that. The idea that it is a collective experience, that everyone who went to the cinema saw the same film — maybe they reacted in different ways — but overall, there is a certain kind of reaction that is common to the entire audience, because we are a social community.

Do you see this as a temporary phase or do you see both these formats co-existing in the future?

It will co-exist, things will adapt. Certain things will go, certain things will come up, new systems (will) come in. But the audio-visual form of entertainment, narratives — all of these things will clearly not disappear. But, the means and methods of getting it to you, to the person who is the receiver, that methodology will change according to technological development.

You don’t see OTT platforms necessarily replacing the kind of collective experience theatres offer?

How can it be replaced? That’s a different kind of thing...Rather, that collective experience is now offered in different ways.

Cinema used to do it effectively in that way everywhere. The one advantage that cinema had is that if you wanted to see, for instance, an opera or something, or an operatic performance in a city like London or Mumbai, that would be replicated and shown in say, a village in Bihar or Orissa. That job has been taken over by television now. But, the experience is not exactly the same because the cinema offers a larger-than-life experience. OTT platforms will clearly not match up with that.

So, the emergence of these new formats will not necessarily be a threat?

No, but it’s becoming more and more expensive, to go with the traditional, multiplex format. More expensive to do — so the challenges are of a different kind. How to recover the expenditure that you will be making, to give you special ways of looking at something, special ways of perceiving something, special ways of enjoying something, on a larger-than-life scale — obviously such technologies will have their cost to be paid for by someone...

Can these new formats coexist properly with movie theatres?

Of course, life is like that, it’s a cumulative thing, old technologies don’t just disappear…The printing technology came, at a particular time in world history...books started to be published — that happened over 2,000 years ago. But the fact is that it didn’t disappear because you had cinema. Books continued to be published, continued to be read. So it adds, it’s an accumulative process. The story of civilisation is a series of accumulations. Civilisation is something that is an accumulation of human experiences, transitions, histories and the creative effort that they put into it, including the destructive elements that exist in human beings — all of these things. That’s part of civilisation.

Published on May 18, 2020

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