MUBI India's Svetlana Naudiyal on how the curated service is making its mark amid sea of streaming platforms
MUBI India's director of content Svetlana Naudiyal on bringing world cinema to Indian audiences, providing a platform to smaller Indian films, and why the streaming service operates in collaboration with movie theatres.
Editor's note: With the world in varying stages of lockdown during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, streaming services have seen a surge in consumption and consequently, commissioning of content. Firstpost engaged the content heads of three platforms in a conversation about how they're meeting the challenge.
The story goes that about 15 years ago, Efe Cakarel, an MIT and Stanford alum, was looking online for Wong Kar-wai's In The Mood For Love (2000) while at a cafe in Tokyo. The search proved fruitless, but it also prompted Cakarel to come up with the idea for MUBI, a streaming platform that offers a curated selection of the finest films, globally.
Last year, the platform launched in India and has been making steady progress since, through its approach of 'content curation' instead of an algorithm-based mechanism. In an interview with Firstpost, Svetlana Naudiyal, director of content, MUBI INDIA, speaks about bringing world cinema to the Indian audience, providing a platform to smaller Indian films, and why the streaming service operates in collaboration with movie theatres.
Edited excerpts follow:
MUBI founder Efe Cakarel said he was motivated to come up with this platform when he could not watch In The Mood For Love anywhere online. Taking us through your journey as a cinephile, can you tell us if there is any film that shaped your life in similar fashion?
It’s hard to pinpoint one singular film. A lot of books, travels, and conversations have been a part of my personal journey. There is one film viewing experience though, which particularly stands out in my memory: In 2011, there was a screening of The Turin Horse at a festival. Back then in India, film festivals were the only places where you could catch a world cinema classic or an obscure art house film, and then meet the handful of people who liked the same cinema as you do. We, a bunch of cinephiles, were all excited to finally experience Bela Tarr’s last directorial work since he had just announced his retirement from filmmaking. The screening was interrupted twice because of technical glitches before the six-odd people who did not walk out after the first two interruptions got to see this film. I always wondered how amazing it would be if cinema around the world was easily accessible in India. So when I heard about MUBI in 2016, I signed up right away.
MUBI INDIA launched in November last year. How has the response been since then? And what remain key areas of development?
We are really happy to have received a tremendous, enthusiastic response from the industry and audiences alike. Our focus has been to spotlight the diversity of Indian cinema, and present the best of global cinema to the audiences here. We want to keep forging ahead with the same vision in mind; keep looking for alternative, unique voices from all possible corners of India.
MUBI has brought a treasure trove of world cinema — not just films that were popular or made waves on the festival/award circuit — to the Indian audience...
There has always been an audience for world cinema in India. We’ve had film festivals and film societies which brought cinema from all over the world for audiences here. And we’re talking about a time when films weren’t traveling digitally and the people they had to coordinate with weren’t a WhatsApp [message] away. Films from around the world still reached India somehow, and there was an audience waiting for them. It might not have been the same volume of people as today but that’s only a natural progression that inevitably happens with time. There has also always been an audience following the 'parallel cinema' of India and the alternative voices — maybe not in the same volume as the one that follows mainstream cinema, but there is an audience. Last but not the least, we are a crazy, film-loving country, and as long as we love films, there is possible room for all kinds of films.
MUBI in India also has a specific section dedicated to the local audience. Is the idea to support the small-budget films that do not land up in theatres since they go against the conventional wisdom of exhibitors?
Our aim is to support great films in all ways possible, no matter what size. We believe in collaborating across the industry, be it taking films to people or bringing more people into the cinemas. That’s why we launched our service MUBI GO in India, in partnership with PVR Cinemas. The service is currently paused due to the pandemic but we will resume it as soon as PVR and MUBI feel it is safe to do so. With MUBI GO, our members in India get one free cinema ticket every week for a release handpicked by MUBI. MUBI GO’s aim is to extend our curated approach to the theatrical experience, and support cinema-going.
The platform is also home to several known classics like Pyaasa, and critically acclaimed films from parallel cinema, like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro and Rudaali. Since these have not been lapped up [for broadcast] by television channels, they run the risk of oblivion. Is that why MUBI INDIA has stepped in there?
I don’t think films like Pyaasa and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro run the risk of oblivion per se. They are masterpieces that have become a significant part of the public memory of this country. However, there will always be a new young generation of film lovers who will discover these classics for the first time some day, and we are here to be the means for that discovery. Besides these classics, there are many relatively lesser known gems in the glorious film heritage of India, like MS Sathyu’s Galige or Fareeda’s Kali Salwar, that we want to keep highlighting and bringing to our audiences.
Other streaming platforms mostly pick up regional titles that travel beyond state boundaries or get countrywide theatrical release. Does MUBI aim to select the titles that get geographically-concentrated releases?
Yes, absolutely. We have been looking for, and presenting films from diverse languages and regions of India. For instance, we’ve even presented a film in Pangchenpa language of Arunachal Pradesh (Bishkanyar Deshot), and a film in Mising language of Assam (Ko:Yad), because we believed those stories should reach more audiences. We’ve recently signed a deal for a big library of Tamil and Malayalam films. Some of them may have had a regional release only, and we are excited about presenting them to a country wide audience.
The USP of MUBI has been its curation of 30 titles that are available on the platform for 30 days. That is a detour from the bottomless pits that most streaming platforms are in terms of content. How do you believe this selective approach will work to the advantage of Indian audiences?
Yes, our members really appreciate our highly curated approach on the platform. Our NOW SHOWING pages for the MUBI INDIA and MUBI World film channels both introduce one new film a day, and it’s refreshing for our users as they’re not overwhelmed by too much choice. They also trust us to pick great films for them. We want them to spend less time searching for a movie to watch, and more time actually watching them.
We did recently introduce LIBRARY, which has a wide selection of films we’ve previously presented. Our members use this section as a way to re-watch favourites or discover films they missed previously. Now Showing still remains the main destination of MUBI for our users though, as it’s where all of our brand new content is presented.
Another refreshing change in the way MUBI operates is it has no algorithm. Would you then equate MUBI with a perennial virtual film festival, since that is the flavour of this season?
We’ll let our audience decide that! We celebrate great films, and so does a film festival, so there is of course a similar ethos at heart.
MUBI has also been a companion to the theatrical model, not only by releasing films in selected screens to make the cut for the Oscars; but also by the MUBI GO facility, which allows the subscriber to get a free movie ticket at a PVR cinema. Where does MUBI stand in the ongoing, and endless, debate between theatrical and streaming releases?
We stand in support of great films and believe in collaborating with all industry partners. I wish for all great films to reach as many people as possible; it could be through cinemas or through the platform. The future of film exhibition has to involve a synergy between the two mediums. MUBI GO is our way of supporting cinemas and encouraging visits.
Read part 1 of this series: Netflix India is dialling up the diversity with its new 2020 slate, says Monika Shergill, VP-Content
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