Jana Gana Mana was Amit Abhyankar’s directorial debut written by Sameer Joshi and produced by Golden Dreams production house. The film was available on YouTube on a pay per view model for Rs 30 for Indian viewers and $ 2.99 for viewers abroad. It was promoted in other countries via MunduTV, a company that disseminates content on laptops, tablets and cellphones and currently streaming over films and 50 TV channels in news, lifestyle, music, regional, business, and general entertainment.
Oscar-nominated director Ashvin Kumar and documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kak had a very different reason for opting for an online release. Both their respective films had run into controversy with the Censor Board over ‘objectional content’ and the movies were not cleared for a theatrical release. Kumar’s previous film Inshallah Football was banned by the Censor Board and his other film Dazed In Doon (based on life in Doon School), was forbidden for screening, exhibition or distribution by a Dehradun court. This time, Kumar did not bother with a theatrical release and headed straight for the Internet.
An online release serves different purposes even though it lacks the bang of a box-office release. But small filmmakers are realising that an online release is better than no release at all as it helps compensate for lack of time slots occupied by big banners when they release their films theatrically. Thus, many filmmakers feel the Internet might be the best bet for small and documentary filmmakers, who can earn a profit from the medium.
Shreyash Sigtia, Business Head, Big Flicks, the movie and entertainment arm of Reliance Entertainment, says, “Given the large number of films that release every year including 10-15 blockbusters, finding a proper theatrical release for everyone is a challenge. In such cases, the online medium presents small filmmakers with a great opportunity. It provides low-cost distribution and marketing solutions for filmmakers.”
He feels that a lot of small films like Well Done Abba, Soundtrack and Amu could have used a simultaneous release strategy for their films too. Abhyankar, for instance, spent only a third of a big film’s marketing budget to promote his film across social networking sites and through various other social media platforms.
UTV simultaneously released their film Dhobi Ghat theatrically in India and in 12 to 13 geographies across the world via the Internet at $ 10 per viewing. This model proved to be moderately successful for the company.
According to Amrita Pandey, Senior Vice-President, International Distribution and Syndication, UTV Motion Pictures, “For a film of a smaller scale, this is a viable option and good business model to explore but it is important for big-budget films to protect their windows of release. The major contribution for a big film’s revenue comes via cinema halls and so releasing it quickly on other platforms might kill its revenues.”
In the VHS era, films like Tezaab and Hum released simultaneously in cinema halls and on home video platforms and both went on to become super hits. Still, directors like Subhash Ghai and Ramesh Sippy, who have delivered some of the biggest films of all time, are apprehensive about releasing their films either solely online or simultaneously with a theatrical release.
Sippy says, “The impact of the first-day collections of a film at the box office is very important for a filmmaker despite emerging platforms like the Internet and mobile phones. I wouldn’t mind releasing a film online or on mobile phones provided they ensure high returns.”
Adds Ghai, “We need all kinds of platforms to recover the money that is invested. Narrowing a film’s window of theatrical release by including a simultaneous online release might hurt the film’s business. But these days, where a film’s fate at the multiplex is restricted to just four to five days, online and satellite platforms definitely boost business.”