Streaming platforms are picking up canned Hindi films for release — increased watching appetite or long-term strategy?

With no big-ticket theatrical release in sight this year, and fewer A-list films available to the relatively smaller players, do not be surprised if you see yet another unreleased film streaming near you.

Tatsam Mukherjee December 01, 2020 14:56:12 IST
Streaming platforms are picking up canned Hindi films for release — increased watching appetite or long-term strategy?

Genelia D'Souza and Harman Baweja | Image from Twitter

It has been close to three weeks since Harman Baweja reappeared on our timelines, and it was not exactly in the vein of 'Can you believe how he looks like now?'. Baweja, along with Genelia D'Souza and Nana Patekar, appeared in the trailer of Anees Bazmee's It's My Life.

Everyone familiar with Telugu mainstream cinema immediately recognised the film as a remake of the 2006 hit Bommarillu, starring Siddharth, Prakash Raj, and D'Souza. The dated-looking trailer announced that the film would finally see the light of the day on Zee Cinema on 29 November. Some rudimentary searches indicate that the film was greenlit in 2008, the same year Baweja made his big Bollywood debut in Love Story 2050. However, reports seem to suggest that the film was completed only in 2012. It's My Life is not the only 'old' film finding its way to a direct-to-home (D2H) or streaming platform.

The last few months have seen many old films finding their way to a platform like this. Nitin Kakkar's Ram Singh Charlie, starring Kumud Mishra and Divya Dutta, which has been lying in the cans since 2014, found its way to a large audience with its release on SonyLIV on 28 August this year. Similarly, Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh, and Pankaj Tripathi, released on Eros Now last week, six years after its completion.

"Like you, even I came to know from someone that the film was getting a release, after newspapers started calling me for an interview. These people are so ill-mannered that they haven't even felt the need to inform me that my film is being released," Dasgupta tells Firstpost in a phone interview. The film has been ready since 2014, but according to Dasgupta, the money he was being asked to shell out for the release was too much. "The fact that it's finally releasing makes me very happy. Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa is very dear to me because when I was young, I used to harbour these dreams of becoming a detective. A lot of people messaged me saying that they took a one-month subscription for Rs 49, only so that they could watch my film. If this very film had released in theatres, then we would end up spending almost four times the money."

The pandemic has put the spotlight on streaming platforms, with flagship services like Netflix recording their highest numbers ever. It appears that platforms are betting huge on their captive audience. While big players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video India, and Disney+ Hotstar have been bidding for some big films in the last two quarters, the others are making small, strategic acquisitions. 

"At SonyLIV, content acquisition decisions depend entirely on storytelling We consistently focus on expanding our basket of offerings, and include quality content across originals, films, Hollywood hits and more. Ram Singh Charlie, Bhonsle, and our recent offering Welcome Home were high on concept and execution, and resonated with our brand's promise of bringing meaningful and differentiated concepts for specific genre viewers," says Amogh Dusad, Head, Programming and New Initiatives at SonyLIV in an email. While Akshay Kumar's Laxmii reportedly garnered a record number of views (according to Disney+ Hotstar), there are the likes of SonyLIV's Scam 1992 and MXPlayer's Aashram, both of which were reported to have garnered similar record-breaking viewership on their respective platforms. And they did so, without an A-list star.

It is difficult to predict one standardised method in which the streaming platforms have gone about acquiring films/shows. If it was just canned projects that have tickled the curiosity of fans, then why is Shoojit Sircar's Shoebite and Vasan Bala's Peddlers not been acquired and released yet? Is it really a matter of 'quality' or is it about buying cheap and finding the best within that? With no big-ticket theatrical release in sight this year, and fewer A-list films available to the relatively smaller players, do not be surprised if you see yet another unreleased film streaming near you.

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