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Exclusive! A theatre release is complicated; OTT is the way ahead for experimental cinema: Priyanka

Priyanka Upendra's 1980 will have a straight-to-OTT release on Namma Flix in October.

Prathibha Joy
Sep 14, 2021
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Priyanka Upendra

For a while, Priyanka Upendra thought that as a married woman, she’d bid adieu to acting and focus on family. Although she continued to do the odd film every now and then, the 2016 horror flick Mummy proved to be quite the turning point. “To be accepted, do age-appropriate roles and create your own space at the box office, with films across genres, especially in the south film industry, which is predominantly hero-driven, is quite difficult. Yet, I have been able to do just that and none of these films that allowed me that were my home productions. They’ve all been made by teams that trusted me as an artiste. My aim is that women should be looked at differently in cinema as well. Roles for women have, thankfully, changed over the years. As society changes, our films and portrayal of women should also reflect that. In the past, I have done films in which I have only been a glam girlfriend to the hero. As I have grown older, I have become more responsible in what I choose to portray on screen. I look for stories that inspire women and am conscious about the lines I speak in my films. Today, I am more aware as an actor and I feel that with my experiences as a mother and all the issues that women face, it is important that we show them in a progressive manner. The message given should be positive always,” she says, adding, “Mummy is the first film in which I played the female protagonist without any other star. The film did quite well at the box office and gave other filmmakers the confidence that a female-centric movie can also bring in returns. So, in that sense, Mummy was the turning point in the second innings of my career.”

Of course, in the immediate aftermath, Priyanka was besieged with offers of similar subjects. “But I didn’t want to repeat myself, although it would have been easy to do another horror film. I wanted each and every film to be different and followed it up with Devaki and Second Half. My upcoming Kannada films are also different; while UgraAvatara is a high-octane action flick in which I play a cop, 1980 is a sci-fi thriller. There’s also my return to Bengali cinema, Master Angshuman, which is based on a Satyajit Ray story about a kid and a stunt master, in which I play an actress who is coming back into cinema. I am the only female character in the film, which is being directed by National Award winner Sagnik Chatterjee. Right now, I am in a happy space as far as roles go. But that doesn’t mean that all my films have to be about me, like, for instance, Life Is Beautiful, which is more about Pruthvi Ambaar’s character. My role is good and inspiring and that is what counts,” says Priyanka.

Her next release, incidentally, will mark Priyanka’s foray into the OTT scene. “Although some of my other films are on some platforms, they’ve all had a theatrical run prior to that. 1980 will be my first direct-to-OTT release, and will come on Namma Flix on October 15. The script of the film came to me after the first wave of the pandemic, when relaxations began to set in. I really liked the subject and the character. The film explores the concept of parallel universes, which I have heard of in Hollywood movies, but not in Kannada. It seemed interesting and we have revealed that aspect in the trailer, as it is the USP of the film. My character is a novelist and mother in 1980 and another character is in 2020. We connect, and then, a series of events unfold between the two of us and that is how the story progresses. I had to work on the look and feel of the character, including the body language of someone my age in the 80s. We tried to be as authentic as we could be to get the era right, for which we shot in a village near Sakleshpur, which didn’t have to be changed much,” says Priyanka.

The film, she adds, was ready about 4-5 months ago, and the team wanted to aim for a theatrical release. “Then, the second wave of the pandemic hit and that was terrible for pretty much everyone, so we held on to the film. With the way things are currently with only 50% occupancy in theatres, you need a big star to bring in that big opening. When Namma Flix approached us, I thought it was good that there is a platform for Kannada content. Right now, the bigger platforms have very few titles in their Kannada portfolio, so, for someone like my mother-in-law, who only watches Kannada content, subscribing to such a channel does not make sense. Namma Flix could just be like what Aha is for Telugu content and we thought we should support them. Of course, they also paid a reasonable amount to buy the film and it worked out well for the producer. At the end of the day, I want audiences to see my film; this is an experimental subject and not a run-of-the-mill commercial genre like horror, action, etc. A theatrical release could still be on the cards, because the platform has not restricted us from doing so. In the current scenario, though, there are close to 200 Kannada films ready for release that will just get lost if we don’t have a dedicated platform for our content. You can’t be on a platform with 500 other titles in different languages and expect to be seen,” reasons Priyanka, adding that the bigger OTT platforms are not really showing interest in picking up Kannada content.

The issue with theatrical releases now, she adds, is that while vaccinated young adults can afford to go back to movie halls, families with kids won’t risk that. “A movie outing for me used to be with my kids, but since they are not vaccinated yet, I won’t take them out like that. Until that is sorted, it would be difficult for the masses to return to theatres. For a film like 1980, which would depend on word-of-mouth publicity, unlike a star film that will have fan clubs filling up the halls for days, the audience will head to a theatre only by the third or even fourth week, if you can sustain it till then. At the same time, you are also competing with films from other languages in the multiplexes; so, it is quite complicated. Keeping all this in mind, for a film like this, I think OTT is the way ahead,” she signs off.

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