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When OTT (over the top) platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar brought films to homes when theatres were shut during Covid lockdowns, it was hailed as a good alternative to theatres. People still patronise OTTs, spared as they are the pain of going all the way to theatres and spending a lot of money. Watching their favourite films from the cosy comfort of the couch at home is an OTT boon. Besides, makers of small budget movies saw a ray of hope in releasing films over OTT platforms.
But going by the films Netflix intends to stream this year, small budget films seem to have been edged out. Among the 18 Tamil films in the pipeline, there are no small budget films. Dhanush’s Vaathi, Vikram’s Thangalaan, Karthick’s Japan and Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Maamannan dominate the Netflix list. Fans may be happy but small filmmakers who had been benefiting from OTT releases that reach audiences far and wide without a heavy investment, have been left stranded.
Pa Ranjith, who directed Thangalaan, spoke at the soundtrack release of the film Bommai Nayagi, saying it has become tough for small budget films, as they’re now welcome neither on OTT platforms nor in theatres. At least there is a semblance of democracy in the release of films at theatres. But that is now missing on OTT platforms, he said
During Covid lockdowns, several small budget films figured on OTT binge lists as audiences received them well. Even films that did not do well in theatres thereafter got a new lease of life on the streaming services
During Covid lockdowns, several small budget films figured on OTT binge lists as audiences received them well. Even films that did not do well in theatres thereafter got a new lease of life on the streaming services. But now, big OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar are picking up films only after they have proved their commercial value or have high potential to begin with.
While movie-making is largely a commercial enterprise driven by profit, the art of cinema cannot be ignored. Small budget films upholding cinema’s artistry and trying to break new ground in filmmaking have been around for decades. As far as Tamil cinema is concerned, there is no dearth of small films making it big.
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Right from T Rajendar’s cult film Oru Thalai Ragam in the late 1970s and Bala’s Sethu in the 1990s to millennial films such as Subramaniapuram, Soodhu Kavvum, Aranya Kaandam and the latest Love Today, small budget films without star value and braving commercial risks have earned accolades and profits thanks to a discerning audience. If such experimental films didn’t make it, Tamil cinema, by and large, would have languished in mediocrity.
Earlier, even small films used to be screened at theatres along with big ones. Filmgoers who could not get tickets to watch big films with star value would then watch the easily accessible small budget films for time pass. As it turned out, some of the small films proved very engaging with their off-beat narrative.
Bharathiraja’s 16 Vayathinilae, which went on to become one of the Tamil films of note across generations, was just a small budget film released in the late 1970s without megastar value (Kamal and Rajini were then nowhere beside MGR and Sivaji Ganesan and were considered second-rung heroes). Mainstream cinema frowned upon and scorned the film even when it was in the making but that didn’t stop it from striking a chord with audiences.
Now, big OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar are picking up films only after they have proved their commercial value or have high potential to begin with
Aval Appadithan, a 1978 Tamil film directed by C Rudraiah in his directorial debut and co-written by him with Somasundareshwar, was also a small film that made it big later and became hailed as an innovation. Director R Parthiban advertised his maiden film Puthiya Pathai in the late 1980s, soliciting support from the people, calling upon them to watch his film. He has since been riding a wave of success.
The healthy trend of accommodating small budget films alongside big films is now a thing of the past. Single-screen theatres are almost extinct, as multiplexes take over cities and towns. Despite having multiple screens, multiplexes hardly ever make space for small budget films, anxious as they are to hog all the big ticket movies to rake in the crores.
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In this background, Director K Bhagyaraj said at a public event that the government could consider ordering the release of small budget films in at least one of the many screens at multiplexes. It is not clear whether it is legally possible to implement this suggestion. So, it’s up to OTT platforms to encourage and promote small budget films. Otherwise, audiences will be denied the chance to watch the work of upcoming quality filmmakers and cinema that is different from the predictable commercial fare.
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