The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fair Release

With increased stock of films lined up for releases on OTT due to the pandemic, are streaming platforms being hegemonic in their process of favouring big budget films?

Often referred to as ‘game changers’ in the ecosystem of films and entertainment industry, streaming platforms have gained quite a lot of traction, and become one of the few industries raking money despite the pandemic and ensued lockdown. Being revered as spaces which push content of relatively higher quality and talent which was ignored by theatrical giants, streaming platforms are argued to be allies of content-based cinema.  However, a lot of independent and small scale films are ignored by these OTT giants and even the so called content- rich projects that do get spaces are backed up by giant production houses which eventually find distribution leaving small scale, non-mainstream films high and dry. This is something which has ramped up especially during these Covid times as the latter bears the brunt of hegemony and favouritism in getting releases, now more than ever.

“OTT platforms are not very inclusive spaces for ‘indie’ films in the first place. Look at the most hyped or successful films and series like Sacred Games, Lust Stories, Family Man, etc; they employ stars and their political articulation is to some extent very limited. With the lockdown scenario, I agree with your apprehension. As big budget films are not getting theatrical releases, there are high chances that they will push back non-mainstream films. At least, from the announcements of 17 releases of Netflix and Hotstar Multiplex releases, it seems like so.”

Dr. Agnitra Ghosh, PhD in Cinema Studies from JNU, Assistant Professor at Department of Journalism, Delhi University, gave subtle hints of hegemony by OTT giants to DU Beat.

Nobody is going to do any charity for anyone, especially the distributors who are in the field to make money, so it is fair to assume that movies must prove their creative worth if they come from unknown producers. While big movies enjoy the leverage of having glamorous star cast to pull enough eyeballs, the small fishes can’t afford that and find it best to enter film festivals in the hope that their work gets noticed.

“I think it’s just a phase, nobody anticipated this and definitely OTT platforms are also overwhelmed with the content that is suddenly made available. It is affecting small/medium budget films for sure, but we have to transition this phase to navigate in the best possible way. At the same time, there are multiple or more platforms out, indie films will find their avenue. Personally, I believe that perception is also driving the market. We are all talking about a show like Indian Matchmaking so much on all avenues of social media, one can only aspire for that level of conversation for indie films.”

Bejoy Nambiar, Director, Getaway Films, expressed his optimistic views to DU Beat.

But it seems as if, even when films prove their legitimacy with overwhelming responses in film festivals, they still fail to get releases. One out of many such examples is that of Vasan Bala’s directorial debut Peddlers (2012), premiered at Cannes Critic Week that was picked up by Eros International, but even after eight years the film hasn’t even seen a digital release let alone a theatrical one. 

“There’s no proper reason for them (Eros) to be doing this out of love or fear. There’s nothing I can do now, other than sporadically do these Twitter rants. I also know this is perhaps a wrong time to be talking about a film because we are facing a bigger problem. But, maybe it’s also because of quarantine that I’m all riled up. I hope they put it out and give it some legitimacy. That’s the word I’m looking out for. Make it legitimate,”

Director Vasan Bala told PTI about how heartbreaking it is to see his film not get a release.

There are a lot of films which would crave even for a digital release, but due to small budget and independent artist base they fail to find it’s audience. These distributors find it in their default to promote films with powerful producers or actors, and use that as a valid reason to not hold releases of so many other films. Anand Gandhi with his own studio, Memesys Culture Lab, has managed to prove everyone that despite being told that no one will watch his cinema he is making films and doing so very profitably. Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) carried forward it’s Jio MAMI Film Festival premiering awesome sets of movies for free on YouTube in the lockdown like Prateek Vats’s Eeb Allay Ooo! (2019), and Arun Karthick’s Nasir (2019). These films are still not picked up by any streaming platforms. But, films like Gulabo Sitabo (2020)and Laxmmi Bomb (2020)have all the privileges to announce their streaming partners.

A lot of debates have sparked up regarding nepotism, failed industry structure, and Movie Mafias. These are not only limited to actors but directors, producers, musicians and everywhere in the industry and perhaps beyond. This monopoly of huge businessmen in creative fields is really dangerous. OTT can really be the ‘game changer’ since it dismantles the entire box office agenda and has the potential to reach an audience which can pick for itself what it really wants

With increase in demand, a lotof streaming platforms are made available like Hoichoi which is finally streaming Kaushik Ganguly’s Nagarkirtan (2017) and Mubi which curates a lot of good content cinema and these have surely helped the creators in finding a platform, but a divide of privilege still lurks which enables the affordability of one section to consume such contents. Indie and folk cinema which represent the society at its intrinsic value get earmarked for a certain intellectual and privileged audience. There are all kinds of people, therefore all kinds of cinema should get a fair chance at a release. It’s more ironic than ideal to ask for a platform, revered as a game changer, to be more inclusive in terms of its releases, especially when it subtly acts hegemonic and alike unfair distributors from whom it was supposed to differ in the first place.

Feature Image Credits: IMDb, Hindustan Times

Umaima Khanam