Inside 2D Entertainment's four-film deal with Amazon Prime Video India: Why Suriya's productions are going digital

The clutter-breaking success of Suriya's Soorarai Pottru on Amazon Prime Video India led to a four-film deal between his production house 2D Entertainment and the streaming platform in what could be a common distribution model in the future.

Subha J Rao August 25, 2021 08:00:59 IST
Inside 2D Entertainment's four-film deal with Amazon Prime Video India: Why Suriya's productions are going digital

2D Entertainment has signed a four-film deal with Amazon Prime Video India

Sometime in early 2020, when no one really knew much about the pandemic or how it would throw life off gear, the folks at production house 2D Entertainment were busy at work, readying for the release of Jyothika-starrer Ponmagal Vandhal. When it became clear theatres would not reopen anytime soon, they decided to go in for an OTT premiere. The platform? Regular collaborator Amazon Prime Video India.

There was a lot of chatter in the market and voices were raised, but Ponmagal had its OTT premiere — it was available to be seen by viewers in more than 200 countries and territories.

Next up was the Suriya-starrer Soorarai Pottru, directed by Sudha Kongara and co-starring Aparna Balamurali. And now, the OTT platform has inked a deal to premiere four Tamil films from the 2D Entertainment stable —  a film a month from September to December. These films —  Raame Aandalum Raavane Aandalum (Arisil Moorthy), Udanpirappe (Era Saravanan), Jai Bhim (TJ Gnanavel), and Oh My doG! (Sarov Saravanan) — bring together many first-time directors and ensembles.

Raame Aandalum Raavane Aandalum is a satire comedy; Udanpirappe (starring Jyothika) is a family drama about sibling love; Jai Bhim (starring Suriya) is a legal drama; and Oh My doG! is based on a family subject. 

Ponmagal was due to release in April 2020, and we were in the initial stages of the pandemic. We knew that world over, OTT was being explored and we thought we should take the lead here, and had a conversation with Amazon Prime. As a production house, we knew that five or 10 years down the line, OTT would grow as a parallel platform, and this is a call we would have had to make. The pandemic accelerated things,” says Rajasekar Pandian, the filmmaker and co-producer at the production house.

Somewhere around the time of the pandemic, 2D was looking at web series as a possible creative space to dabble in too. But when it decided to enter OTT, it did not want to do anything in the “experimental space." “We decided to enter the space on a large scale, and we are still waiting for the right content to enter the web series space,” says Pandian. 

Pandian cites the examples of big-ticket anthologies on OTT platforms, and how they have brought together the best of names. 

Even Soorarai Pottru went the OTT route because the film had been ready for a while, there was no sign of the pandemic easing, and the costs of not releasing it were mounting. Something similar happened to the four films that are now slated to premiere on Prime.

“None of this was planned. Had theatres opened, we might have announced dates, but these films were shot in the brief window between the first wave and the second, and have been ready for five months now. There are fears of a third wave, after an already-brutal second wave. We have a good relationship with Amazon Prime, and have been giving them digital rights since Kadaikutty Singam,” says Pandian.

The murmurs around Ponmagal Vandhal grew louder with Soorarai Pottru. But things have changed in the months that followed. The brutal second wave of COVID-19 has seen theatre owners and distributors take a more pragmatic view of things. Most now believe that OTT and theatres will co-exist, and not really compete.

Inside 2D Entertainments fourfilm deal with Amazon Prime Video India Why Suriyas productions are going digital

Suriya in Soorarai Pottru

Tirupur M Subramaniam, president of the Tamil Nadu Theatre and Multiplex Owners Association, is vocal that the industry is hurting deeply financially, but hopes that once theatres open (they have, since 23 August, with 50 percent capacity), things will stabilise. He believes OTT and theatres will co-exist, and likens the question of whether theatres will survive to the TV boom in the '90s. “There are nearly 20 OTT platforms now. Can people afford to subscribe to all? When they screened films 24x7 on television, they said theatres would shut down. That did not happen. Likewise, once there is competition in OTT, no platform will pay a premium for content. Even now, the films being bought are the big-ticket ones featuring stars. How many films in the Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore range have been bought? Also, if actors appear too often on OTT, the charm of seeing them on the big screen will wear off,” he says.

However, 2D says that it had kept the option of both theatrical and OTT open from the very beginning of the shoot. 

Vijay Subramaniam - Director and Head of Content, Amazon Prime Video India, says that in addition to commissioning original content, “we are doubling down on partnerships with like-minded collaborators, like 2D Entertainment, who are looking to take their meaningful, immersive stories to worldwide audiences. 2D Entertainment has deep insights into the core audience, and much like us, are customer focused, making them perfect collaborators”.  

Pandian says that what works for them as a company is that Amazon Prime respects content. “Once you deliver, they keep approaching you to ask about future projects. As a production house, we continue going direct to OTT for certain projects so that it gives us the financial freedom to roll out more films and keep the ecosystem going. These four films will pave the way for another four to be made, and so on,” he explains. In fact, he says that the release of Ponmagal Vandhal facilitated the making of these four films. 

This is something actor Suriya, whose production this is, has always maintained. That he is not a corporate with hundreds of crores at his disposal, but an individual making films, and every attempt is aimed at protecting the cast and crew involved. (Neither Suriya nor Jyothika was available for comment.)

These four films were made entirely during the pandemic, with safety measures in place, including vaccination of team members. “That is how we were able to complete work,” says Pandian, who says the production house is now backing six other projects thanks to the release of these four films. “We don’t borrow money from third parties.”

As a production house, Pandian says 2D is open to collaborating with any platform when there is something interesting. Like others in the industry, Pandian also believes that the time is ripe for films to be made for different streaming avenues — theatres and OTT. “We have the culture of the big screen, the interval is very important. People watched Kadaikutty Singam travelling through villages in a tractor. But the current situation dictates that each film calls for a different route to reach the audience.”

“Theatres are the birthplace of cinema, but going forward, people will be attracted to larger-than-life content to watch on the big screen,” says Pandian. “I think the two worlds will co-exist as they already are learning to. Gone are the days of 365-day runs. The window of films playing in theatres has come down to weeks. Three weeks is a blockbuster, five weeks is a mega blockbuster. Yes, being one among the audience, we do miss the adrenaline rush of watching a film in the theatre, but that time will come soon too.”

Tirupur M Subramaniam says that OTT has introduced people to films from other languages, and going ahead, Indian cinema across languages will tap into the global market even for theatrical releases. He cites the example of Kannada film KGF: Chapter One, which did good business in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu. “It was the first Kannada film to release here after Kalla Kulla decades ago. Likewise, a multi-starrer like Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan will do well across the country theatrically. OTT and theatrical releases will be a parallel track. Each will have a dedicated audience, and there will be cases where an OTT product gets made into a theatrical release. For example, the Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen, which released on Neestream, is now being made in Tamil. Eventually, OTT platforms will go back to the system of buying films after theatrical release, like satellite rights,” says the theatre owners’ association president.

He believes that this change will happen for monetary reasons. “OTTs now give out full page advertisements as part of marketing. A film releasing in theatres has possibly 1/10th that marketing budget. That will make a difference once theatres open,” he explains.

Speaking about how Amazon proposes to engage with the Tamil industry and its creators for fresh content, Vijay Subramaniam says that it believes “the audience’s relationship to entertainment is non-binary. If the story connects with the viewer, it will transcend any barrier – cultural context and even language. This strategy has proven itself many times, and remains front and centre to our approach for commissioning originals or licensing movies."

Inside 2D Entertainments fourfilm deal with Amazon Prime Video India Why Suriyas productions are going digital

Suriya in Jai Bhim

The response worldwide to Sorrarai Pottru (it released in 240+ countries and territories) was gratifying, says Vijay Subramaniam, and “signalled the increasing adoption of Prime Video as the ‘theatre-at-home’ for blockbuster releases. “With Jai Bhim set for festive release this November, we hope to bring the same joy to our viewers,” he adds. 

This demand for fresh content is also creating new avenues for storytellers, writers, and performers behind and in front of the camera, says Vijay Subramaniam. “We are encouraging new voices in the Tamil content industry to experiment with different genres, formats, and languages,” he explains, adding that in August, Amazon launches LOL - Enga Siri Paappom, an adaptation of the global LOL format.

Does Amazon envision platform hour-long films, and creations that fall in the gap between shorts, anthologies, and regular features in the future? “We do not like to speculate about the future. That said, the Indian content ecosystem is at the precipice of a cultural renaissance, and I strongly believe we will see innovation and experimentation across formats, models of release, and even possibly, interactive storytelling,” concludes Vijay Subramaniam.

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