OTTs, newfound portal of northeast filmmakers to reach global audience

Regional directors say the exposure, if sustained, will be a major breakthrough for cinema of the Northeast and change the way films are released in theatres

Assamese films like Village Rockstars, Aamish, Bornodi Bhotiai and Raag among many others have now found place in OTT platforms

The recent surge in streaming of Assamese and regional language films on OTT (Over the Top) platforms including major players like Netflix and start-ups like MovieSaints, has come as a boon for regional filmmakers. OTT platforms are those where film and television content is provided digitally vial internet.

Earlier, films from Assam and other north-eastern states hardly got any space in theatres as heavy-budget Bollywood films acquired most of the slots. But, with theatres closed due to the nationwide lockdown, the recent emergence of OTTs as a major medium of entertainment, has given a ray of hope to independent filmmakers.

Gateway to global audience

OTT platform MovieSaints for instance, has added at least two more films from Assam in the past two weeks  – one in Assamese and another short film in Karbi language. The platform has at least 10 films from the region.

“For regional filmmakers with a limited theatre audience pool, the OTT platforms are a potential gateway to connect to audiences across the world. I want to show my film to as many people as I could. Possibilities are endless, even commercially. I’m just tapping into that potential right now,” independent filmmaker Anupam Kaushik Borah told The Federal.

Borah’s Bornodi Bhotiai (Love, by the River) is one of the Assamese films that were recently added to MovieSaints.

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One of the most discussed Assamese films of 2019, Bornodi Bhotiai spins the tale of a man from Majuli, an island in Brahmaputra River, who searches for a cure to his strangely prolonged cold. Four other men on the island are in search of love, falling for the same woman. Their journeys on a figurative level show how Majuli too, is searching for a cure to its own ‘cold’ – of flood and erosion caused by the Brahmaputra.

“My film is right now on a ‘pay per view basis’ platform. This means that the earnings from the platform are directly proportional to the number of actual views,” Borah added.

His film was released in Assam last year and ran for several weeks. But now, with this opportunity, Borah expects his film could draw global viewers.

“My purpose of getting actual views from audience around the world is fulfilling. At such times of pandemic and lockdown, there is no doubt that people are showing up on OTT platforms more than ever. I have a hunch that the trend will not wane even after lockdown is over,” Borah said.

Though many filmmakers globally, have started to make contents exclusively targeting OTT platforms, the practice is far from reality in the north-eastern part of the country. Borah, however, is hopeful that once the filmmakers here start working that way, the scene will change to a great extent. “If it arrives, it will be a major breakthrough for our cinema,” Bora said.

Scope for small budget films

OTT platforms are also encouraging small-budget filmmakers, who earlier couldn’t even think of a theatrical release, to showcase their films to a global audience.

Though some of the widely appreciated films among them are screened in film festivals, viewers in general don’t get to watch them at theatres. But through OTT platforms, these filmmakers can reach out to a wide viewership.

For filmmaker Khanjan Kishore Nath, who hails from Nagaon town in Assam, it is a great opportunity that MovieSaints has started to stream his Karbi language short film The Boy with a Gun. The film tells the story of a schoolboy in a hilly village of Assam, who finds a pistol inside a bag on his way to school.

“The OTT platforms are the new opportunity for us to reach out to global viewers within a short time. I believe, in future the traditional way of film release will be over,” Nath told The Federal.

Chor (Bicycle), a feature film by Nath will available on Amazon Prime videos for the viewers of UK and USA shortly.

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Other films from Assam being streamed at MovieSaints are Aamis (ravening) and Kothanodi (The River of Fables) by Bhaskar Hazarika; Suspended Inspector Boro and Local Kung Fu 2 by Kenny Basumatary, Raag by Rajni Basumatary and Bokul by Reema Borah.  Short films Fade In by Ankur Deka and Ghormua (A letter to home) by Mukul Haloi are also being streamed on MovieSaints.

Parity at last

Kenny Basumatary who became a household name following the grand success of the Local Kung Fu, touted as India’s first martial arts comedy, is also happy to see his films being streamed on various OTT platforms.

Kenny was one of the victims of partiality in favour of commercial films, when his movie Local Kung Fu 2 was removed in spite of running full house in a week to accommodate Bahubali 2 in 2017. And such incidents are not rare. Every now and then, if any big budget film is released, the local filmmakers suffer the most.

“The theatre owners or the multiplexes are always dominated by the big production companies. So, obviously when any big budget film is released, there is so much pressure and competition to get them screened. As a result, the regional films suffer. Also, hardly they can do something on that unless the government interferes. But with the emergence of OTT platforms, it’s a boon for the independent filmmakers,” said a film trade analyst.

Kenny too sees hope here. A yet to be launched OTT platform called Reeldrama, focusing on the East India market has already acquired all three of his films.

On Netflix, already several films from the region are streaming including Village Rockstars, Bulbul Can Sing by Rima Das, Maj Rati Keteki by Santwana Bordoloi and III Smoking Barrels by Sanjib Dey.

A few more films are available at Jio Cinema, ErosNow and Google Play Movies. Some of these are Handook by Jaicheng Joi Dohutia, Othello by Hemanta Kumar Das, Antareen by Monjul Baruah and Duronir Nirola Poja by Dhruva Bordoloi among others.

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