‘Introduction of web-based content has caused a tectonic shift and it is here to stay’ ~ Vikram Malhotra
Indie cinema is a parallel universe; it needs an infrastructure and its own ecosystem in order to survive ~ Vikram Malhotra
Vikram Malhotra is the Founder & CEO of India’s first independent motion pictures company – Abundantia Entertainment. Championing the philosophy “quality content is profitable content”, Vikram has been the name behind some of the industry’s most-loved films in recent times. He discusses with us the shift in viewership sensibilities, addresses in length the positioning of content in the Indian scenario and shares Abundantia’s endeavours for 2018.
How do you think ‘web’ overall has changed the content scenario in India in the last 5 years? And do you think it has affected the mainstream?
See there are two aspects to what we call the web or digital, when it comes to content. Two key aspects. One is access. Suddenly access is available to you anywhere, at anytime. So that means content is literally at your figure a tip. It’s no longer about appointment viewing on television. It’s no longer about a days plan to go and watch a movie at the theatres. It’s about ready, always on and always available access.
The second is the commercial aspect. Which means the value for time and money. Which is an equation of convenience, cost, effort and ultimately the creative joy of watching that content. This equation has heavily skewed itself in the favor of web and digital content. So if you bring these two aspects together what you get is a very strong incline towards the consumption and broadcast of content on what you’re referring to as web or digital.
This is a game changer, because it has changed the business aspect of content. By business I mean creative, production and commercial. Everything. It has hit the business of content on both the creative and commercial front. It’s a tectonic shift and it is here to stay.
What hampers Indie films in India is that we don’t have an ecosystem that understands it, distributes it and awards it.
We are seeing larger scale of investment into web-based content. How does that affect the budget of the television content and films? Since there is the outfit of the Indie cinema running parallel, where films are made on lower budgets as opposed to a single webisode these days.
You know I’ll begin with addressing the myth around Indie cinema in India. Indie cinema is neither a function of budget nor is it a function of who’s producing it vs. who’s directing it. Indie cinema is a parallel universe; it needs an infrastructure and its own ecosystem in order to survive. Studios back most Indie cinema in India. So films like LSD, Gangs of Wasseypur, That Girl in Yellow Boots, etc that I have personally been a part of, have been backed by large studios.
Not even producers, but studios. These are not Indie films. What hampers Indie films in India is that we don’t have an ecosystem that understands it, distributes it and awards it. Small films are determined by budget or lack of big stars. They release in the same theatres as the big spectacle films with big stars. In most instances the price of the ticket is the same.
It takes the same amount of shouting to make your film heard over others. Why do we have a critics choice awards? It is because we have very few awards barring the national film awards and such that recognize these films.
We have the Pandolin awards as well…
Yes we have the Pandolin awards as well, which is a welcoming change. So when you put all this together, you’re really saying that budget is a perspective of the vision. Are you making episodes that have bigger budgets than the budget of Indie films, sure why not!? If the vision of web series is bigger than that of an indie film, then that’s what it needs and it should be provided with what it needs.
But they are getting viewership as opposed to Indie films.
Exactly. Going back to what I was saying, due to the access, ultimately Indie films need to write themselves on these platforms to be discovered. It’s the best thing to have happened. In a market like India, we have struggled to get release dates for a hot and buzzing film like Gangs of Wasseypur.
Today the discovery is that much higher on an Amazon Prime or Netflix. It is there for the audiences to see, so I think it’s the best thing to happen for low budget Independent films in India.
In a market like India, we have struggled to get release dates for a hot and buzzing film like Gangs of Wasseypur.
So what do you think about this shift from theatrical releases to direct to home release. Do you think in the future Digital releases will replace theatrical releases?
No I have very stark views about this. Even if you see global examples, I think feature films will continue to work, when they are made, marketed and shown as feature films on the big screen. Direct to Home films or straight to web as we call them, these are going to be compared to content. They will be compared to documentaries, they will be consumed with finite content and it will remain to that extent.
So do you see it as a viable option for filmmakers, to skip the whole theatrical release process for their films and go directly to an Amazon Prime or Netflix instead?
Sure it is an opportunity, but even if you look at global examples, it is not the main stay. You may choose to pick a few of these opportunities but it does not give the same kind of returns. It cannot be bread and butter. I would say that it may stay, but I don’t see it as something that will go big and supersede theatrical experience.
With rising ticket prices, the number of audiences coming to the theaters to watch films is reducing globally. Is there a dialogue between the producers and theater owners regarding this?
See these are free market dynamics. You cannot dictate these as producer bodies, exhibitor bodies, and distribution bodies.
If people stop coming to theatres because they find that the experience is too expensive for the kind of content they are watching, which is what has happened for a larger part of 2017, ultimately the theatres will have to reduce prices. Alternatively what we can do is, provide the audience with such good content with the 4D and IMAX and 3D experiences, that they do not mind spending that little extra money. Essentially what we will have to look at is the value for money equation.
Because if an outing costs a family Rs.1500- Rs.2000, that family is going to be very selectively about the content they are going to watch on the big screen, which means we as producers have to be 10 times more selective about what projects to invest in and what films to make.
We have a production with Nishikant Kamat, he is directing a fantastic period love story for us.
What are Abundantia’s plans for next year?
We have a very exciting year lined up. On the feature film side, we get into production with some of the most exciting content for the year. We have a production with Nishikant Kamat, he is directing a fantastic period love story for us.
There is a remake of a large Hollywood film that we have acquired, which I am not yet in the liberty to talk about. There’s a co-production with Neeraj Pande’s company Friday Filmworks for a film called ‘Missing’, which releases in a couple of months. And we have a whole host of work on the development side.
So we have a good mix of work for features on the production as well as development front. For the digital content, Breathe goes on air early next year. That’s Amazon’s second original and our first original. We have already announced the acquisition of Manohar Malgonkar’s book- The Men Who Killed Gandhi, that’s in act of development and there are a couple of other shows in the writing stages, so we have a busy and exciting 2018.
And any films at Film Bazaar that caught your attention and you would like to acquire?
Yes! Most Certainly. I am not going to name them, but there are a couple of scripts and a film that has caught my attention and my team is already engaged into seeing what & how we can get involved in that.
Transcribed by Divya More.