Love Per Square Foot: Netflix's Valentine's Day gift to producers fed up of trade diktats, censorship
Love Per Square Foot, the first Netflix film of India, has opened doors for creativity that is immune from constraints of age old trade mantras.
On Valentine’s Day, Netflix launched Love Per Square Foot, its first original film in Hindi. The love story, starring Angira Dhar-Vicky Kaushal is the first Indian film to premiere on the streaming service. While it will never be screened in cinema halls or on television, the Anand Tiwari film is available to over 100 million subscribers in 190 countries simultaneously on day one.
There is a lot to gain from releasing a film on a global over-the-top (OTT) video-streaming platform without a traditional theatrical. Ask your audience and they will tell you that it's a win-win situation. Going to the movies is not cheap. Imagine paying over Rs 1000 for a family of four to watch an evening show of a new release. If you want to snack on popcorn, be prepared to fork over another Rs 1000. Amazon Prime Video’s monthly subscription is Rs 50 and Netflix’s starts at Rs 500 going up to Rs 800 a month. Would you sign up for that price if you knew you would get one exclusive blockbuster in Hindi on a monthly basis, never mind the world of content that is also available on demand?
One just needs to look westwards to see that things are moving in that direction. Netflix has already challenged Hollywood’s old ways of theatrical distribution and got everyone from distributors to theatre owners worried. The streaming powerhouse ended 2017 with the genre-bending cop drama Bright starring Will Smith. Directed by Suicide Squad’s David Ayer, the $90 million action thriller was panned by critics but was streamed 11 million times in its first three days as per Nielsen. A sequel to Netflix’s ‘first blockbuster’ is already in the works. Slated for a Netflix release in early 2019 is Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. The gangster film, starring Robert DeNiro has a budget of more $100 million.
Their large subscriber base in the West has allowed Netflix to take on mainstream Hollywood fare but it is still early days in markets like India. While on-the-go video consumption is on the rise, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have approximately 1 million monthly active subscribers in India. They are a long way off from disrupting Bollywood but Love Per Square Foot is the first step in what could be a definitive new bucket of opportunity for filmmakers in this country.
If the global reach of these OTT platforms is what drives the economics behind their original content, it is that very reach which affords the largest advantage to filmmakers everywhere. In 2017, the platform released 50 original film titles from comedies to anime, foreign films and documentaries. These included the critically acclaimed Bong Joon-ho film Okja, Oscar nominated Mudbound and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father. In 2018, they plan to up this number to 80 films.
Today, any Indian film that is commissioned by Netflix starts with potential viewers in say Iceland or Peru that are not traditional markets for our films. For a filmmaker in India, this is liberating because it eliminates the fear of the box office and removes the constraints placed on them by a judgmental local trade or a draconian and overtly sensitive censor board. Ask any director who has been asked to add an item song in the past to get more shows or to delete a few scenes because they hurt someone’s sensibilities or sentiments.
It also reduces the dependency on A-list casts. Even if a small fraction of Netflix’s global subscriber base watches foreign content, you are talking of a new audience that is in millions. This is an audience who is consuming your content with no preconceived notions and giving it a fair chance. They do not care if the film stars Salman Khan or Sumeet Vyas.
Bypassing the big screen entirely has annoyed Hollywood biggies like James Cameron and Christopher Nolan. A believer in the sanctity of the theatrical experience, Nolan believed ‘a scenario in which movies and television become more similar elevates television but diminishes movies’. The Dunkirk director has, in the past, refused to work with Netflix and called its straight-to-subscriber model ‘mindless’. There will be naysayers in Bollywood as well but one cannot ignore this huge new opportunity for filmmakers and talent alike to showcase their skills and make content that they truly believe in.
Love Per Square Foot is Netflix’s Valentine gift to Bollywood. And filmmakers should seize the opportunity with both hands.
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