Last Updated: 02.33 PM, May 11, 2023
In response to a post-pandemic world, where theatre attendance has suffered and top stars have struggled to woo viewers, Sony Pictures International Productions India, a local arm of the Japanese multinational Sony Corp’s movie production company, is placing big bets on large-scale theatrical releases that showcase Indian culture and heritage.
Sony’s strategy revolves around releasing 4-5 movies every year in the Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu markets, in addition to producing 2-3 films specifically for OTT platforms. The firm aims to create its own intellectual property, and support bilingual movies that can be released in multiple languages. Focusing on creating larger-than-life and theatre-worthy cinematic experiences, it has worked on several projects during the covid-19 pandemic.
“We’ve pivoted to making full-blown theatrical films that are larger-than-life. Our strategy is two-pronged—one, celebrating the country and, two, coming up with modern stories with strong emotional core. Covid gave all of us time to think through, pause and reflect and we worked a lot on the development of projects. It is proven that the theatrical business has to stay because not every film can become an OTT original and it is the only way for even digital and satellite businesses to sustain,” said Lada Guruden Singh, general manager and head, Sony Pictures International Productions India, that is known for films like Major, 102 Not Out, and Padman.
Sony is not looking at too many acquisitions and prefers to develop projects in-house, as it has done with a Tamil film co-produced by actor Kamal Haasan. “We want to focus on creating our own IPs. We are not looking at projects where the IP comes as part of a package deal, we’re reversing it, We go to producers with our IP and then develop it though we know it’s going to take longer. We look for stories that are rooted and in sync with the times,” Singh said.
OTT has, in fact, given filmmakers much clarity on what to do for theatrical business, he said. Without sharing the details on investments, Singh said the idea is to “invest good money and make sure there is good return on it.”
Emphasizing the need to target Bharat, he said as a country, India has rich and diverse stories as part of its folklore, literature as well as dance forms. “We need to discover our country and its stories. There is a reason that films like Kantara or Karthikeya 2 worked while some big star films haven’t.” Singh was referring to the successes in the southern stories that were rooted in local sensibilities.
Filmmakers like SS Rajamouli have taken India to the global stage and sell the Indian dream to the West with films such as RRR and the Baahubali franchise, he added.
Sony Pictures International Productions India is looking at relatively unknown names whose work might have made a big difference besides well-known Indian legends. The company has announced a movie trilogy on Shaktimaan, the Indian superhero series that aired on Doordarshan in the 1990s; an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl; a Tamil film starring Sivakarthikeyan and Sai Pallavi co-produced by Kamal Haasan; and a Hindi-Telugu bilingual featuring Varun Tej and Manushi Chillar. There is also Dive, an underwater thriller with Ram Madhvani, known for Neerja and Dhamaka.
While more niche, experimental subjects like Taapsee Pannu-starrer Looop Lapeta will go to OTT, Singh said Indians are hardwired to seek outdoor entertainment and go to movie theatres, as the success of recent films like Pathaan shows.
While admitting that many recent films that have failed at the box office were made before or during covid, Singh said there has been a paradigm shift in how filmmakers look at material. “For us, the learning has been to recalibrate our strategy. We’re not in a rush, the fact that today audiences can choose to watch a Hindi, Tamil or Malayalam film (all available on OTT) has made our lives tougher. But it’s also taught us the importance of the right IP,” Singh said.