Sunday, Jul 03, 2022

The Great Mollywood Kitchen: How OTTs Empower Regional Cinemas To Compete With Bollywood

Malayalam cinema’s recent flowering has fortuitously coincided with the rise of OTT platforms, exposing new audiences to their cutting edge offerings

Unfamiliar flavours Still from C U Soon

The influx of internet TV and the expansion of indigenous OTT platforms catering to regional cinema content, have propelled a range of generic and creative experimentation in Malayalam cinema. The spike in subscription during the Covid-19 lockdown (up to 55-60 per cent acco­r­ding to the BCG-CII Media and Entertain­ment Report) res­h­a­ped traditional market patterns, making direct­-to-­streaming release a lucrative choice for pro­d­u­c­ers.­ The mix of players like Sony­LIV, ZEE5, alongside bigger names like Dis­ney+Hotstar, Net­flix and Amazon Prime Vid­eo, offer a competitive market for purchase as well as new kinds of prod­u­ctions in Indian regional languages, including Malayalam. Even newer streaming platforms such as Prime Ree­ls and Neestream, have also emerged during this period, focusing solely on Malayalam film content.

The move to internet television for releasing films that were on the verge of completion star­ted during the pandemic, with C U Soon (Mahesh Narayanan, 2020), which was publicised as a “com­puter-screen movie”. The trend continued with films such as Minnal Murali (Basil Joseph, 2021) that saw the provincialisation of the superhero genre through localised idioms. Unlike pre-­pandemic theatrical and satellite releases, str­e­aming platforms also allowed such regional content to reach a transnational viewership. Eff­e­ctively, it bust the myth that regional cinema is limited by language affiliations, an effect perhaps also of the platforms’ algorithm-based AI feed of suggested content. The moot point here is that this provides filmmakers with some latitude in exploring and experimenting with topics that deviate from expectations that have traditionally accompanied theatrical releases.