A perennial pastime, movies to Indians is what vodka is to the Russians. The 70s and 80s were notoriously known for theatres running one movie for over a year; and now, multiple releases in the same timeline and technological intervention have all reduced theatre runs to just months.
A steady rise in the number of patrons for online media over traditional ones have evoked scores of original, uncensored content on Video On Demand (VOD) platforms, and the viewing experience now for audience has become more convenience-oriented than conventional.
Movies like Bhavesh Joshi, U-turn, NOTA, and Kaala have all been widely watched on online platforms even though they tanked at the box office. For Anjali Shrivastav, a content writer at way2news, it is all about packaging. “If the trailer interests me, I will go out of my way to watch the film. Otherwise, I choose to wait till it hits the theatres,” she shares. An annoying trend of netizens uploading spoilers in the form of memes also puts off any excitement left to hit the theatres.
Filmmaker Mohana Krishna Indraganti, known for movies like Sammohanam, Ashta Chemma and Grahanam, feels the strain of going to the theatre and spending money makes one much more critical of a movie. “It might be a quaint thing to say, but you want your effort and money’s worth,” he says.
Prudhvi Garlapati, city-based civil engineer says, “People expect more of comedic films in south India or they won’t be that interested to go to the theatres. Take U-turn for example, it had an actor like Samantha, it can make youngsters watch the movie, but the older generation might not be egged on to it.”
Mohan Krishna agrees, “I think how much ever people complain about lack of good cinema, the majority will still prefer to buy tickets to a star vehicle. People tell me, ‘Manchi cinemalu raavatledandi (there are no good films, sir)’ and would watch a star-powered film; not making even half the effort to watch a new film. The best example would be Chi La Sow, a good film in recent times which is far better than the trash that’s coming out now.”
For a movie like Bhavesh Joshi, promotions, reviews and star power played spoilsports. “But, I’m happy for the attention it has got, as earlier, good movies used to sink without a trace. At least now, we have a platform to find such films,” says Indraganti.
And while there are perks to the whole ‘going digital’ movement, there are few setbacks. As opposed to Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi industries, audiences in Tollywood are yet to develop a culture of watching content-based films in the theatres. Low budget flicks are looked down upon, and are considered not worth buying tickets for. “With a streak of content-driven films like 96, Ratchasan and Paraiyerum Perumal, the reception there is much more evolved – 96 is running into its fifth week. Paraiyerum Perumal has done better than 96 and Ratchasan, even Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Nawab),” states the filmmaker.
“On one hand, I’m happy that there are platforms that get you terrific reception, and you might be able to explore uncharted territories, attempt bolder themes, as there isn’t a censorship issue. But, the problem with Netflix and Amazon is that they robbed beauty of a communal viewing experience,” he feels. Instantaneous feedback is an added perk.
He considers a group of five-six hundred people coming together to experience one film as a society, to be the greatest quality of films. “Watching a film online makes the experience very personal like reading a book,” he says. “It’s a double-edged sword, on one hand, you get tremendous content, but on the other, it’s not being experienced simultaneously by a group,” he reiterates.