Bengaluru: With the proliferation of streaming platforms, movies and soap operas have become accessible in salons across the country, breaking down regional and language barriers. Among industries in southern India, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu films have made their presence felt across the country on various over-the-top (OTT) platforms in recent years, with a steady increase in the number of films. non-native audience. But, even in this gold rush, Kannada content still struggles to find a space for itself.
While a handful of Kannada films have managed to do fairly well on streaming platforms, regional content creators across the industry have struggled to find a niche on OTT platforms. In 2020, a Kannada web series – Honeymoon – suffered a similar fate when it was not accepted by any platform. Later, a Telugu OTT platform, impressed with the content, decided to stream it, but only after dubbing it into Telugu.
Pawan Kumar, director of the U-Turn film, which was the first Kannada film to get an OTT release, said that while some Kannada films managed to find a place in India’s OTT experience, they were not. not as big an achievement as Malayalam industry. “Over the years, due to the release of various films in our language on OTT platforms, Kannada content has gained some visibility, but it has not been able to create a buzz like the content of the malayalam and other industries in southern India. It is this buzz and word of mouth that has helped our neighboring industry become so popular on OTT services. People went looking for Malayalam films because of the buzz, ”Kumar said.
Kannada director Hemanth Rao, who was also a co-writer of the Hindi film Andhadhun, took examples of short films to get his point across. “If you compare the views received by a Kannada short film and a Telugu short film, you will see that the audience for the Kannada short film is less. Even Kannada’s most popular shorts will only have around a million views. OTT work is based on market response. This is one of the reasons for the low response of Kannada content on OTT, ”said Rao.
An executive working with one of the streaming platforms that plans to expand its content in the south, agreed on the lack of response to Kannada content.
“Nationwide, Bangalore reports the highest subscriptions and views. At the same time, the affairs of the rest of Karnataka are not as important. If you watch Bengaluru, the demand isn’t for Kannada content, but audiences here watch everything from international films to regional films. It is often the quality of the films or the buzz around them that attracts them. Kannada content per se has no such demand. One of the reasons is the low subscriptions from the rest of the state, ”he said.
“It’s not all bad news,” said writer and actor Danish Sait, who has directed two Kannada films for OTT platforms. “I’m talking about my personal experiences. Comparing the situation three years ago, the Kannada films have taken a big leap, ”he said.
Sait added that OTT services provided a platform for content creators like him, who couldn’t bring masses to theaters like the big stars, but were able to create engaging content. “OTT has given a lot of people like me the great platform. We are the people who have made a career out of the internet and this is one of the reasons we know the content we create is best suited for OTT. Thanks to the streaming services, we have been able to deliver our films to a national audience and their response gives us the confidence to create more content, ”said Sait.
However, several film critics have said that compared to other industries in the south, Kannada has yet to find its niche and, more importantly, the number of quality films made in the language is limited. “If you look at the Malayalam industry, after 2010 there was a paradigm shift in the films that came out of it. The quality of the films ensured that there was an audience for these films across the country, ”said a senior film reporter with an online platform, who did not want to be named.
“At the same time, the Kannada films continue to produce what are called ‘event films’, where the film revolves around a superstar, and it’s a show created for its fans. Such a film will never get a national audience. Yes, there have been films, like Thithi, but you could count the number of these films on your fingers, ”she added.
A director from Kannada, who did not want to be named, said that in the new era of Indian cinema, the industry is stuck in a catch-22 situation. “The money right now is used to make mass movies based on superstars. Only some of them, like KGF, have won out-of-state audiences. If the Kannada industry is to score in this new OTT experience, we need fresh and nuanced content that is appealing to the new internet generation, ”he said.
“For that, most filmmakers who have the potential to make innovative films need producers. But producers are not sure whether to invest, as Kannada movies don’t have enough space in streaming services. In this chicken and egg situation, we are the losers, ”he added.
Over the past few years, there have been several attempts to create local streaming services in Kannada, but they have not been successful. “I wouldn’t take names, but there were several portals that started running streaming services in Kannada. They even had some great content. But to run such a service you need a constant flow of funds. For example, the Telugu streaming service “Aha” is supported by some large commercial groups, which have seen the potential of regional content. Here, the owners are trying to fight for funding. During the lockdown, we saw tier two cities consuming more online content and even paying for it. Kannada missed this opportunity, ”said the executive quoted above.
The film critic concluded that if the Kannada films are to have an impact on the national audience and therefore on the streaming platforms, it is necessary to review the quality of the content produced by the industry. “Streaming is as big as a release threat now. To stand out in streaming services, our content has to go beyond event movies for superstars. Our industry is known for producers like Shankar Nag, who were way ahead of their time, it is time to bring such mindsets back to the industry, ”she said.