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Filmmakers weigh in on the ‘OTT platforms don’t buy Kannada films’ debate sparked by Ramya

Kannada films remain the least preferred choice for mainstream OTT platforms, with some not even entertaining movies from Sandalwood.

Filmmakers weigh in on the ‘OTT platforms don’t buy Kannada films’ debate sparked by Ramya
19.20.21 is yet to find a digital partner, while Mandala: The UFO Incident was deemed ineligible by a major streamer

Last Updated: 09.52 PM, Apr 24, 2023


If you look at the release schedule of mainstream OTT platforms at any given point, chances are that you will find quite a few Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam titles across streamers. Kannada cinema has and continues to be a rareity. The industry’s good fortune of 2022 was expected to give it a boost among OTT platforms, but the reality is far from that. For the longest time, Kannada filmmakers have been talking in hushed tones, often in “off-the-record” conversations about the difficulty in finding a good OTT partner.

Kannada cinema’s former queen bee Ramya, who announced her return to cinema with the launch of her production house AppleBox Studios, recently put the focus on this issue that has been plaguing Kannada cinema. Speaking at a conclave organized by a leading media house, Ramya said that mainstream OTT platforms do not buy Kannada films and those who do, insist on a theatrical release first, following which they make nominal payment offers depending on the movie’s box office reception. In the aftermath of Ramya’s comments, OTTplay reached out to some filmmakers, some of who preferred to remain anonymous while sharing their views.

According to a filmmaker whose thriller came to theatres in June last year but is yet to find a streaming partner, representatives of mainstream OTT platforms follow a screening process, which does not involve actually checking out the content, but instead, referring to whether it has received favourable reviews. Director-producer Ajay Sarpeshkar, who made Kannada cinema’s first UFO-based sci-fi film, Mandala: The UFO Incident, was disappointed when Amazon Prime Video passed over his film citing that it does not meet the selection criteria and chose the widely-panned Kabzaa instead. “I wonder if someone even looks at actual content on their end or just checks some publicity metrics that were reached by the film. It used to be that streaming platforms gave hope to content-driven cinema – maybe that’s just hogwash,” Ajay lamented.

National Award winning filmmaker Mansore’s latest 19.20.21 is also yet to find a digital partner. Mansore, who had written to Amazon Prime Video, says that he got no response from the streamer. “OTT platforms are major scams now. First, they made audiences addicted to their platforms and ensured they don’t head to theatres and now they insist that they will buy only those films that had a decent theatrical outing,” he says.

But why aren’t Kannada filmmakers supporting local platforms like, say, NammaFlix, Talkies or Cinebazzar, among others. “Smaller platforms do not have the bandwidth to ensure films are not pirated from their sites. They do not provide a guarantee that the content will be protected from piracy, unlike the bigger platforms like Netflix and Amazon, which engage an agency to take down illegal streaming links from piracy sites,” says Mansore.

An actor, whose film came to OTT 8 months after its theatrical release, says that in the last financial year, platforms like Voot Select and Zee5 Kannada invested on a few well-known titles, so much so that by the end of 2022 itself they began saying that they had no funds for any new procurements until April. “Getting a meeting with the Prime Video team is easier said than done and the first thing they check is the reviews your film has got. If the top reviews include anything negative, the deal can fall through, which is why filmmakers lobby for 3-star ratings and above,” he says, adding, “If you look at the major OTT deals in recent times, they are either films with A or B-lister star casts or are backed by major production houses.”

OTTplay can attest to the critic rating criteria, as several filmmakers have reached out in the past with requests to give a minimum 3-star rating or take down a lower rating, so that it does not show up among the search engine’s top results.

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