Twenty-six-year-old Ritabrata Dass spends most of his time on his Rs 30,000 something smart phone. From watching movies to series, Dass is glued to his mobile phone. In fact, after shifting to Chennai from Mumbai six months back, he hasn’t bought a television set. “Why do I need one when I have Amazon Prime on my phone. What more can a TV offer?”
Dass isn’t the only one. Many in the age group of 18 to 35 years, are more connected to their smart phones than their television set. They prefer watching movies on their phones or tablets rather than spending Rs 1000 for a single movie at the theatre. That brings us to the question — ‘Will there be a place for cinema in the digital age?’
A new revolution
Easy access to web content, at a nominal price and at our own convenient time and place, has opened up a wide range of material for us to browse and watch. Services like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime are all making films and television content available at the click of a button. All you need is a good quality phone and strong internet connection.
In India, the digital revolution began in 2012 when Arunabh Kumar started producing original and entertaining content on his digital entertainment channel — The Viral Fever, aka TVF. Several other channels followed with fiction and non-fiction content.
Looking at the growing demand of online content, last year, three big players entered the market. Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s production house Excel Entertainment partnered with Amazon Prime Video for web series Inside Edge, Ekta Kapoor launched an OTT platform called ALTBalaji and Vikram Bhatt has his channel called VB on the web. Big corporate and production houses like ErosNow, Chillx, Reliance Jio too are trying their luck with the medium. Why else would Zee, a top private channel launch ZEE5, their brand new digital entertainment platform?
Bollywood celebrities are not just acting but creating, directing and producing content for smart phone viewers. Shah Rukh Khan’s production house Red Chillies Entertainment and streaming site Netflix are working on a series based on the book, Bard of Blood, penned by Bilal Siddiqi. Saif Ali Khan will be making his debut in the space with Sacred Games, which will be directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. Recently, a popular television show Sarabhai vs Sarabhai made its comeback after 10 years on HotStar.
Keeping up with the demand, even TV channels are getting into the short film space. Recently, Star Plus screened Teen Pehliyan, which are three short films directed by Sujoy Ghosh. The Kahaani filmmaker had said, “It was an experience to mould my thoughts and present them in the short feature format on television. I have always sought to introduce newer and bolder concepts into my work and change the viewers’ perception.”
Vikram Bhatt, who has dabbled both in films and web, says that the latter allows storytellers to tell a story without any inhibitions or rules. “You don’t have to water down your content to make it acceptable. It allows us to respect the intelligence of our audiences and not take them for granted,” Vikram says.
Is web a threat to TV and films?
Looking at the growing web viewership, one would wonder if the medium is going to impact the business of TV and films? Industry experts, however, believe that the reach of films and TV is too wide to get affected by web.
Actor-producer Abhay Deol says, “Bollywood can never be threatened by web as a medium. Having said that, there is no denying that web is offering newer content to viewers which is attracting them. We definitely have to come up with fresh ideas for the sake of the audience.”
Vikram adds, “Our films and TV need to catch up with the changing times if we want to continue to have a successful box office run.”
Actor Rajeev Khandelwal, who has worked in all the mediums, believes that in India the three mediums will co-exist. “We will not get rid of illiteracy any time soon. Till the time this happens, there will be a section of society who will watch television. Women between the age group of 35 to 45 years will continue watching mythological serials or whatever else they prefer. But the younger audience who have internet connection will watch content on the phone.”
Actor Sumeet Raghavan, on the other hand, believes that television might face competition from web, but films and theatre are here to stay. “These are the only places where people have fun. How would you enjoy watching a film or a play on your smart phone? For that you need to go to the theatre.”
Independent content at risk
Almost everyone in the industry believes that films starring big stars are never affected by newer trends. “They will carry on with their regular business because we love watching the big stars on screen. We wait for their films to release. In fact, they get the maximum business to the industry,” says an industry expert.
Sadanand Mohol (President, Theatre Owners and Distributors Association) says that content on smart phones has definitely affected the independent movie business. “People come to watch films for Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar. But it’s the small-budget, independent films which are facing the challenge. Since these films are easily available online, the audience prefers watching them at home,” he says.