By Gautaman Bhaskaran
Netflix has begun its operations in India at last. The starting plan is Rs500 a month. Two more schemes — Rs650 and Rs800 a month — are coming.
In a country like India where piracy rules, the entry of Netflix is bound to transform the picture. This will certainly mean tough times for not just pirates, but also the country’s television industry.
Netflix, which was founded in 1997, has now become the global leader in on-demand Internet streaming. With a 70-million subscriber base the world over, the company airs some extremely popular shows, such as Orange is the New Black (tracing the lives of women prisoners) and House of Cards (about an evil politician who goes on to become the American President).
The subscribers have loved the Netflix shows for its lovely content and its superior quality.
Internet streaming is a great hit with youngsters, and the other night, this writer saw the seven-year-old kid of his physiotherapist engrossed in watching a popular cartoon show on his father’s mobile phone! And this is a classic example of what India is going to see more and more in the coming months, and given this trend, Netflix is bound to cause a lot of excitement.
Another advantage of Internet streaming is that all episodes of a season can be downloaded together, and one may watch them at any time one wants to.
Netflix has found in the West that viewers are more than eager to pay for original content. The firm charges about $9 for a 30-day subscription, which in rupee term will mean about Rs600.
And the Indian television industry has been losing its sheen in recent times. Television soaps have been getting jaded, primarily because their plots are regressive. Women conspire against one another, and men look on. Women wear the gaudiest of clothes at all times, and men appear like decked-up dolls in a what seems like a role reversal. Obviously, with nothing positive in these television serials and the same old stories being aired time and again, people were tempted to go for pirated content on the net.
This is where Netflix is bound to strike with its original fare that is also meaningful.
That there is a massive audience for sensible content was proved when some Pakistani television shows started appearing in India. People just lapped them up, because they were real, sensitive and positive.
Indian television has certainly stagnated, and with the arrival of Netflix in India, the entertainment sector is bound to be shaken up.
Netflix also has a huge movie library too (Django Unchained, Copenhagen and so on) which includes classics as well as films that opened in 2015. All this means thrilling times for India. And for Tamil cinema too.
Tamil cinema: Netflix has been largely welcomed by the Tamil film industry, although as with any discovery or introduction, some scepticism is bound to emerge. Nobody wanted the steam engine or even the electric bulb, but time proved detractors wrong. And so shall it be with Netflix and Tamil cinema.
Of all the movies made in India, those in Tamil suffer the most for want of distributors or exhibitors or both. Despite a surge in the number of multiplexes in Chennai and some other Tamil Nadu cities, there is not enough theatres for the 250 or so films produced every year in the state. Merely 200 or so get a theatrical release, and many of these too are not allowed to run beyond a week (one reason why Tamil producers/directors are so averse to allow reviews to appear on a Friday, the usual day a movie opens), because there is a long queue.
This Pongal, which falls on January 15 and which is one of the biggest festivals in Tamil Nadu, at least four films will open, each cutting into the other’s revenue, and for all one knows, three of them may just fade away after seven days.
There is also another reason why movies do not find takers. Production values are very low, and stories are clichéd, and as Sreedhar Pillai, trade analyst, told this writer the other morning, “with the age of digital technology, anybody with a camera can make a film...No wonder, there may be as many as 500 movies (some half made) languishing in the cans for 10 years now”.
If Netflix can buy some of the better or good works from this unsold inventory, it can be a win-win situation for all.
Also, Netflix can go a long way in curbing piracy in a state like Tamil Nadu, where the evil is rampant. Kamal Hassan tried doing precisely this when he wanted to release his Viswroopam simultaneously in cinemas and on the direct-to-home platform. But he was not allowed to do so by a group that lacked foresight. The result, hundreds of pirated copies of the film flooded the market.
Every week, week after week, just about every Tamil work which opens in theatres is already to be found on pirated disks.
Finally, Netflix, known for its extremely good quality content, can go miles to engineer better production values in Tamil cinema.
Obviously, smaller movies can benefit by Netflix, smaller works that either fade away from theatres in just a week, unsung and unwritten, or those that remain in the cans for years.
As one producer (who does not wish to be quoted) says that if only Netflix can lower its pricing from the current Rs500 a month, it will find many, many more takers — who are fed up of watching bad quality stuff on pirated disks (at Rs 40 each).
Admittedly, Tamil Nadu still has the lowest theatre entry rates in the entire country. A ticket cannot be priced above Rs120. But this is bound to change sooner than later, because cinema owners have been contending that they cannot run their establishments with this kind of income.
However, even the Rs500 a month, charged at the entry level by Netflix, seems like a song if a family of four or five can watch several films in a month and in the comfort of their drawing rooms.
l Gautaman Bhaskaran has
been writing on Indian and world
cinema for over three decades, and me be e-mailed at [email protected])
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