To prevent this argument from going soft it’s perhaps best to start with a story, even if it’s an anecdote about an anecdote. Despite having never met the man in question, an acquaintance of mine from Mumbai once recalled how Amitabh Bachchan may have saved his life in the dusty valleys of Afghanistan. The storyteller, an Indian diplomat, who shall we say functions as part of the spear tip of Indian statecraft, was in the Central Asian nation soon after the Taliban’s ouster in 2002 and looking to make contact with a few leaders of the putative Northern Alliance. Suddenly besieged and presented to a different set of warlords he found himself unable to break the ice with them, and was soon gravely informed that they suspected him of being a Pakistani spook, the “enemy” they loathed. That is until he spied a tattered poster of Bachchan’s 1992 hit Khuda Gawah (‘God is the Witness’, a film shot extensively in Afghanistan) in the next room and decided to talk Bollywood — to immediate excitement among the Afghan warriors. Unable to recall any song from that film, however, he found himself back in the doghouse, until he started belting out ‘Mehbooba, Mehbooba’ from Sholay, the 1975 blockbuster that launched Bachchan to superstardom, and is perhaps the most famous Hindi film west of Amritsar. An agreement was soon concluded and the diplomat found himself warmly escorted back to his base with much fierce debate about the new “Khan ishtars” in Mumbai.
Aishwarya Rai at Cannes Film Festival
The tale might have perhaps grown longer in the telling but there’s no disputing how popular Indian films now are in many parts of the world. Clearly, going soft need not be inopportune. For well over two decades now foreign policy wonks have waxed eloquent about the merits of ‘soft power’ for nations looking to find their places at the global high table. India, with its old civilisation and spiritual customs based on universalist traditions, has always had several cards to play in this game. Indian commercial cinema, with its distinct rhythms, is the latest addition to the pack. As a noted strategic affairs guru puts it: “Bollywood has done more for Indian influence abroad than all the bureaucratic efforts of the government”. But there’s still some way to go, for both industry and creative artists cynically churning out assembly-line movies in the country, and for the state making more concerted efforts to better push what is arguably India’s most exciting export goodie.
Much water has flown down the Ganges since earlier generations of Indians were often told of how much Russians loved Raj Kapoor’s cloyingly Chaplinesque tramp from Awara, or of how Dilip Kumar was as much a heartthrob in Lahore and Dhaka as he was in Mumbai. Beyond old ties of cultural kinship in the subcontinent and bilateral arrangements between governments (which saw a handful of Indian films being regularly exported to ‘friendly’ countries like the Soviet Union or Mongolia), Indian cinema has struck out and conquered bold newer frontiers now. Indian superstars like Aishwarya Rai and Aamir Khan regularly walk the red carpet at big film festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Venice and are recognised globally. Southern superstar Rajinikanth was a cultural phenomenon in Japan for a while, where local fans dubbed him ‘Dancing Maharajah” and landed up in exotic Indian costumes for his movie premieres. Bolly superstar Shah Rukh Khan was conferred a high Malaysian state honour which even stirred controversy there with many protesting that local actors were ignored. Several actors also increasingly pop up in the tabloid press when holidaying abroad in the West — a surer sign of cross-cultural traction than any box-office grosses — and are now slowly experimenting with taking up meaty roles in films in a more globalised Hollywood.
A Poster of Sivaji
There’s no denying Indian movie stars’ graphs have seen increasingly steep rises from the last decade into this one. If pirated videotapes in the 1980s kickstarted the revolution, the internet and its endlessly cyclical streams of video content — appears to have solidified this reach, taking Indian film to places as far afield as North Africa, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In fact there’s a reason Indian film distributors now delay releasing Hindi or Tamil films in many foreign markets, despite the lucrative business many films do there. Most pirated DVDs that land up almost immediately after film premieres on Indian shores come from these places.
Home is where the heart is
In briefly analysing this trans-cultural appeal of Indian cinema two major factors must be noted. One, the size, breadth and rising cultural assertiveness of the Indian diaspora across the world has been a factor so huge it’s changed Bollywood in several noteworthy ways. The expatriate Indian’s outsize longing for identity and roots has helped reshape the country’s film trade. The foreign box office (BO) contributes so significantly to big movies in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu that several duds at the local BO actually go on to make profits from the diaspora dollar. Many films now have exclusive premieres in London and New York, unthinkable even a decade and a half ago. Pioneered by filmmakers like Subash Ghai — who was actually lampooned in the mid 1990s for ‘pandering’ to Non Resident Indian (NRI) audiences — the size of this market has even led to the content changing in Bollywood. Indian films have got slicker, costlier and are now set in locales across the globe with many actors often playing NRI characters, echoing vaguely NRI concerns.
Film markets at festivals worldwide now see sizeable Indian delegations hawking new productions for distributors to pick up or producers to take up. Outside of Bollywood, Tamil film producers now tie-up ‘FMS’ (Foreign, Malaysia, Singapore) rights before they get down to haggling with local distributors about territories and sales, while Telugu producers line up small European and sizeable North American releases for their new films.
Songs and dance are essence of Indian Cinema
NRIs, it seems, just can’t get enough of the filmy glamour from their old country in any way possible. Many film stars now earn big bucks from performing at ‘Bollywood Nights’ abroad. These arena shows, staged almost exclusively in countries with large NRI populations, have also proven so lucrative that several stars either long in the tooth back home or relegated to the background now make their money purely from ‘touring’.
Business is booming overseas, yet as any big producer, distributor or cultural commentator will tell you, much remains to be done to increase penetration beyond the diaspora. The odd viral video of Europeans doing ‘Bollywood dancing’ for small audiences or weddings with a Bollywood theme are still too few and far between for Indian cinema to be labelled a widespread crossover phenomenon. Unlike, say, with the martial arts films that crossed over from Hong Kong and China to the West over three decades ago; or Japanese creature features, manga or ‘J-Horror’ genres. They influence Hollywood, still the gold standard for big feature film production. To change that requires tinkering with the old formula for Indian cinema. It would mean going more ‘arty’ (a despised phrase in Indian film production circles) and looking to imbibe and reconstruct in singular fashion genres, themes and narrative experiments from elsewhere. And not just in form.
Which is, of course, easier said than done. A strong recidivist streak resides deep inside Indian filmdom. The formula may not be periodically dumped or retired for a new genre to rise to the top of the heap à la Hollywood. This in turn has a lot to do with why the formula is the way it is. Why fix what ain’t broke? And besides, this formula is the second reason Indian films have such a large global reach. It’s why they speak in unmatched dulcet tones to several other developing societies that have much more in common with Indian audiences than they suspect.
Rajinikanth fans in Japan
Think Local, Act Global
There’s a reason India is referred to as a subcontinent. The sum of its many ethnic, cultural and linguistic parts is perhaps greater than the whole. With over 25 major languages spoken and over 700 hundred dialects, not to mention large ethnic, cultural and religious divisions, nation building and unity was a challenge the founders and early builders of modern India took very seriously indeed. Cinema was soon harnessed to the task in the 1950s. Filmmakers and writers took on matters of great national and social import and until the mid 1960s (when romances got mushier and a new generation of glamorous lovers and sex symbols appeared onscreen) and early 70s (when public anger against a dysfunctional state and crony capitalism exploded on screens across India) sought to craft a cohesive cinema that provided ‘wholesome’ family entertainment while dwelling on traditional Indian values and customs. These films had to crossover from one region of India to another that had about as much in common with each other as two European countries do. They had to transcend barriers of language, class, creed and ethnicity. They began doing that for almost every big Bollywood release in roughly the late 60s to early 70s. The seeds of a global formula were sown right there. In fact, in addition to India’s remarkable (even if slightly flawed) tryst with liberal democracy, several theorists and historians have championed Bollywood in particular as a great force for national integration in what ought to have been a rather fractious country of infinite diversity. To put it a little simplistically, a template was slowly evolved and continues to form the basis of cinema to this day with very little variations on the theme, even if the forms have changed over time.
Also powered by audiences changing with a new liberalising India, new films from the mid 1990s began to be increasingly located abroad (and not just for the songs) while the melodrama remained firmly rooted in varying interpretations of ‘Indianness’. Over the year the characters got glitzier, the stars got shinier, the songs got dreamier, the love stories got mushier, the gangsters and vigilantes got nastier and the Hollywood-inspired action sequences got edgier, but the melodramatic tensions remained pretty much the same. It made — and still makes — for a heady mix. Yet at its core Indian cinema is still mostly all about family, culture, traditions and, of course, romance. And the increasing demands that modernity makes on each of those.
A Poster of Sholay
This is largely what appeals to audiences in countries that are grappling with the rapid changes wrought by the modern world and increasingly breakneck Westernization of societies. So from much of the Arab world to Central Asia and parts of South East Asia, from Africa and to many parts of Latin America, Indian films deal with societal tensions that people deal with on a daily basis. Despite the candyfloss glamour on top, which merely provides for the perfect escapism for such audiences. And an alternate ‘warm’ escapism, one that comes straight from the heart; as opposed to what Hollywood provides, which for these audiences tends to be either too cerebral, too Western or merely a visceral rush. The neo-Shakespearean tragicomic genre that Bollywood has made its own is a different fl avour to be savoured with everyone. No wonder it’s a hit.
Besides, there’s also one special secret sauce added into the mix. The one genre that India perhaps took and refashioned in singular fashion more than any other to make it its own more than any other: the old Hollywood musical format. Which was quickly fused with classical Indian traditions of devotional and theatrical musical performance. The spectacular results are there for the world to see. Indeed, whatever your cinematic inclinations you would have to admit, where would Indian cinema be without all that song and dance? The world agrees. Come, sing along. Or better yet, dance.
(This story is reproduced from the archives of Pickle Magazine)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said that the Indian toy industry has the capacity to bring growth to the neediest segment of the society. Calling it ‘Toyconomy’, he said that the global toy market is about $100 billion and India has only 1.5 per cent of this market. Noting that India’s share in global toy market is only around one-and-a-half billion dollars, Modi advised the country’s gaming and toy industry to play a big role in this sector. Addressing participants of Toycathon-2021 via video conferencing, he said, “Today, we import around 80 per cent of our toys as well. That is, crores of rupees of the country are going out on these. Today, the world wants to understand the present potential of India, the art-culture of India, the society of India in a better way. Our Toys and Gaming Industry can play a big role in this.”
Mukesh Ambani Bets Big on 5G
Reliance Jio, together with partners, has tested its 5G solutions in India, successfully demonstrating speeds of over 1 GBPS, and its ‘Made in India’ solution is “globally competitive”, RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani said on Thursday at AGM. He also exuded confidence that the company will be the first to launch full-fledged 5G services in the country. He announced the launch of JioPhone Next, a fully featured smartphone, that is developed in partnership with Google. “JioPhone Next is one of the most affordable smartphones globally, which has cutting-edge technology,” Ambani said. JioPhone Next will be launched first in India on September 10, and later it will be taken to many other countries.
Producers Plan Theatrical Releases Amid 3rd Wave Fears
With the second wave of Covid-19 flattening, producers are busy planning theatrical releases of their movies, as over 50 films are waiting to see the light of the day. Amid fears of a third wave, many producers are lining up offerings as they hope that State governments will lift curbs on operating cinema halls by the middle of July amid a decline in Covid cases. While Akshay Kumar’s Bell Bottom is scheduled for 27 July release, Mohanlal’s Malayalam film Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham has confirmed an Independence Day weekend release on 12 August. Three Tamil films- Laabam, Doctor and Border – are looking at an August release. Also, the release of Akshay Kumar’s Sooryavanshi, John Abraham’s Satyameva Jayate 2 and Hollywood film Fast and Furious 9 are also imminent.
Marriage Between Theatres and OTTs?
Though it was feared that the reach of OTT would eventually put an end to theatre-going culture, it is not happening. It is becoming clear that films will need to release in theatres at least for two weeks and leading OTT platforms would want to see audience reaction. This is something similar to old days of movies getting published in print and trades before getting to theatres. Except mid-budget and few independent films, other movies would hit the big screens first, especially with the Covid restrictions being eased. There is also a buzz in the market to have some OTT web series streamed into theatres, as it would feed theatre’s hunger for content.
No Commission on New Microsoft’s Windows App Store
Microsoft, which recently took its place in the history books as just the second US public company to reach a $2 trillion market value, has launched Windows 11. Chairman Satya Nadella has brought in a real transformation to Microsoft — giving an alternative to Google and Apple with Windows Store. Windows App Store will enable software developers to use their own in-app payment system and no commission to Microsoft. This will also let users run it in Android Mobile Application, Laptops and desktop PCs.
Peacock to Add Colours to Amazon Fire TV
Nearly a year after NBCUniversal launched Peacock, the streaming service is now coming to Amazon’s Fire TV set-tops and Fire tablets. As per an agreement between NBCU and Amazon, Peacock was launched on the Amazon devices in the US starting Thursday, June 24. In addition, the two companies reached a distribution agreement for NBCU’s 15 network apps for Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablet devices including NBC, Bravo, NBC News, NBC Sports and Telemundo. The Peacock pact for Amazon’s family of devices comes just a month before the start of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, for which NBCU holds the US. media rights.
Tarun Katial Unveils Tech Platform for Writers, Production cos
Former chief executive officer at video streaming platform ZEE5 Tarun Katial and former head of content and communication at The Walt Disney Co. for APAC (Asia and Pacific region) in Hong Kong Keertan Adyanthaya have joined forces to launch Serendipity Media Technology, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) powered platform for writers, producers and entertainment companies. The service will help writers with insights and tips on how to make their scrips better besides providing them timelines of topical events that could make for interesting stories and the characters that could feature in them. At a later stage, the platform will also have critics on board that will evaluate and rate scripts sent in by writers and production houses.
TOI, DD News, AIR on Top in Most Trusted Media Brands List
Times of India and State-run DD News (Doordarshan) and All India Radio retained high levels of trust among consumers in India, according to a survey by The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. As per the Reuters list released on Wednesday, the Times of India topped the list, followed by DD News, AIR, BBC and The Indian Express. Others in the top 10 include Economic Times, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Business Standard and CNN. According to the Reuters study, Indian print brands, in general, are more “trusted than television brands”, which are far more polarised and sensational in their coverage. Republic TV and The Wire, despite its popularity as a news source, has the “highest levels of distrust”. The data for the survey is based on responses mainly from English-speaking, online news users in India. The respondents are generally more affluent, younger, have higher levels of formal education, and are more likely to live in cities than the wider Indian population.
Ekans to Entertain: New Indian Superhero Series in Cartoon Network from June 27
Cartoon Network India has announced its first local superhero and CGI series, Ekans – Ek Se Badhkar Snake. In the latest original Indian series of WarnerMedia channel, folk mythology meets the smartest, tech-savvy kid on the block. The show features the 13-year-old street-smart Ekans, who is “the chosen one” thanks to his heart of gold and fearless attitude. With extraordinary serpent-like powers, the tech-savvy youngster obtains heightened sensory perceptions, ability to camouflage, flexibility and strength to keep humanity safe. According to Abhishek Dutta, South Asia Network Head for Cartoon Network and POGO, “Kids and their families are going to love Ekans, the show’s teen protagonist, because of his intelligence, unique superpowers and his ability to overcome challenges for the greater good. We have high hopes for our first sci-fi superhero.”
Get Ready for Toronto Film Festival. Industry Registration Begins June 25
The 46th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 9-18) features 10 days of international and Canadian cinema with over 100 films in its Official Selection, events featuring acclaimed industry guests, and TIFF’s Industry Conference. While the world is moving towards a degree of normalcy, many of the industry and press colleagues may not be able to travel across international borders. In response, Toronto is to continue with its TIFF Digital Cinema Pro platform that will host Press & Industry screenings, the Industry Conference, press conferences, as well as the TIFF Industry Selects market. For now, Industry passes will focus on bringing you the best online experience.
Amazon-MGM $8.5 Billion Deal to be Probed
The Federal Trade Commission will review Amazon.com Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Hollywood studio MGM. Amazon last month announced its deal for MGM, which would boost its Prime Video streaming platform in a market that includes rivals such as Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co. MGM has a library of more than 4,000 films, including the James Bond franchise, and a television catalog that includes ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘Vikings’. The department has recently reviewed transactions involving video content, including Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox and AT&T Inc.’s acquisition of Time Warner, a deal the department unsuccessfully attempted to block in court.
Setback for WhatsApp in Court
New IT rules: Madras HC Sends Notice to Govt
The Madras high court has issued a notice to the Union government on a plea moved by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan that challenges the constitutional validity of the new information technology rules and calls them a threat to the freedom of press and to free speech in India. The petition has contended that these rules violate Articles 14 (equality), 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution (right to freedom of speech and expression and right to profession). Hearing the application for interim orders, a bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy recorded the petitioners’ submission that there is “sufficient basis for the petitioners…apprehension that coercive and arm-twisting action may be taken” under such provisions.
Sushant Singh’s Dad Moves HC Against Films on Son
Father of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, KK Singh, moved the Delhi High Court challenging a single-judge Bench order, which had dismissed his plea seeking an injunction against the proposed movies being made on the actor’s life. The Delhi High Court Wednesday sought to know whether movie, Nyay: The Justice, which is purportedly based on the life of Sushant Singh Rajput, has been released as scheduled on 11 June after both the director of the film and the actor’s father gave contradictory statements on the aspect. The High Court was hearing an appeal filed by Krishna Kishore Singh challenging a single judge’s order refusing to stay the release of the movie or to restrain anyone from using his son’s name or likeness in movies.
LinkedIn Blocks ‘Sensitive Topics’ in China
LinkedIn is blocking profiles from being viewed inside China if they mention politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, including benign references to academic study. The Microsoft-owned professional networking site has written to many China analysts, alerting them to “prohibited content” on their profile pages. It told Swedish writer and photographer Jojje Olsson via email that a reference in his education section meant his profile, comments and posts would “not be made viewable in China”. The move has attracted criticism. Linkedin had earlier said it worked to ensure we remain in compliance with local law. “We’re a global platform with an obligation to respect the laws that apply to us, including adhering to Chinese government regulations for our localised version of LinkedIn in China,” it said.
Three Indian films will be at Cannes Film Festival this year. While Rahul Jain’s Invisible Dreams will be present at Official Selection – Cinema for the Climate, Payal Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing will be at Directors’ Fortnight and Suman Sen’s Eka (Solo) at La FabriqueCinema 2021. Rahul Jain’s Invisible Dreams, filmed entirely in Delhi, where Jain was born and raised, looks at the impact of pollution and climate change on the residents of India’s Capital city. Payal Kapadia’s film A Night of Knowing Nothing unfolds as a flower blossoms in the course of an afternoon in a house where a 60-year-old widow lives with a Nepali maid. Suman Sen’s Eka (Solo), an Indo-Bangladeshi venture backed by Arifur Rahman of Goopy Bagha Productions, is one of ten projects selected for the La Fabrique mentoring programme of the Institut Francais.
Times Now Promises to Not Air Anything Against Bollywood
The Times Network has said that its news channel, Times Now, will not publish or air anything defamatory to the Hindi film industry. This comes after four film industry associations and 34 producers filed a lawsuit in October against Republic TV and Times Now and a few of their anchors, alleging ‘irresponsible reporting’. In a joint statement issued with The Producers Guild of India, which is one of the plaintiffs, Times Network said that they have settled the matter. According to the statement, “The application for settlement along with the consent terms is pending for acceptance before the Delhi High Court.”
Google Apps in Smart TVs: CCI Orders Fresh Investigation
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has launched an antitrust probe against tech giant Google over the alleged dominance of its Android Operating System in the Smart TV market in India. In an order dated 22 June, CCI said it found Google “prima facie” in violation of India’s antitrust regulations and asked its director general (DG) to further investigate the matter. Google’s Android OS has a 90 per cent market share in the smart TV segment, which according to the watchdog violates the country’s competition laws. The complaint filed by antitrust lawyers Kshitiz Arya and Purushottam Anand in May last year alleges that Google bars any company that acquired the licence for its AndroidTV platform from working with its competitors.
Google Faces EU Antitrust Probe
The European Commission opened a new investigation into Google to assess whether the tech giant has favored its own online display ad technology services. The investigation will also explore whether Google is unfairly limiting access to user data to its competitors. In a statement, Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president in charge of competition policy said: “We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack. A level playing field is of the essence for everyone in the supply chain.” Google is one of the world’s largest companies with a market value of more than $1.6 trillion.
Big Tech, Big Worry. It’s a Global Trend
US lawmakers recently announced huge bipartisan bills aimed at huge tech companies. At a time when such developments are being witnessed across the world, many outlets reported that Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google were directly targeted in the new set of bills that would put more restrictions on corporations’ monopolistic tactics such as acquiring competitors. Naturally, these corporations are widely against the new bills and have begun executing their lobbying campaigns against the bills. Following this, thirteen organizations, many allied with high-tech companies, wrote to the US House Judiciary Committee on Monday urging lawmakers to vote against two of the most far-reaching antitrust bills that the committee will discuss this week. The two bills – one introduced by Representative David Cicilline, chair of the antitrust subcommittee, and the other by Representative Pramila Jayapal – address the issue of giant companies, such as Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, creating a platform for other businesses and then competing against those same businesses.
One Good News For Google, YouTube Wins Copyright Fight in Europe Court
YouTube has won its latest copyright-infringement challenge after Europe’s top court said online platforms are not liable for users uploading unauthorised works unless the platforms failed to take quick action to remove or block access to the content. The European Court of Justice ruled that YouTube and other online platforms shouldn’t be held liable for copyright-infringing uploads in some cases. They could, however, be held liable if they are aware copyrighted content is available illegally and refrain from ‘expeditiously deleting it,’ the ECJ said. This development marks a win for YouTube and other platforms, which have long tussled with artists and musicians over compensation for work that gets shared online. This has come at a time when India is also looking for an answer on who is responsible — uploader or platform — for the content. One has to wait and watch to know whether this ruling will have some reprieve for YouTube in India.
Arnab Goswami Chargesheeted in TRP Manipulation Case
The Mumbi crime branch probing the Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation scam has named Republic TV chief Arnab Goswami (added as 19th accused),four employees of the channel and two others in its second supplementary chargesheet submitted in the 37th metropolitan magistrate court on Tuesday. Goswami has been named along with Shivendu Mulekar, chief operating officer Priya Mukherjee and chief financial officer Shiva Sundaram in the 1,800-page chargesheet. This development has come nine months after the police registered an FIR in the case and former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh named the channel as being involved in the scam.
TN govt’s Kalvi TV Grabs Attention
At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has hit education sector hard, Tamil Nadu government has found a solution to bridge the gap- Kalvi TV. The television channel, which has become a hit among students and parents, is offering online classes. The model can be emulated by other states and private players as well. Since schools remained shut owing to the Covid-19, video lessons began on Kalvi TV for the 2020-21 academic year. Following this, bridge course programmes were telecast over the summer as well, after the academic year to address learning gaps. For this purpose, students were given workbooks. Says P A Naresh, Joint Director of the School Education Department, and special officer, Kalvi TV, “this year, we have added lessons for Classes 1 and 12 as well. Last year, Class 12 students had recorded video lessons on their laptops, which they had used to study.”
NFDC Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Projects at Cannes Film Market
For the first time, NFDC Film Bazaar is part of the Co-Production Day (July 9) at the Cannes Film Market with seven projects. The seven projects are Dengue by Prantik Basu (India, Netherlands), Rasa (Immerse) by Anjali Menon (India), Kuhiro Pariko Sahar (A Hidden Tale Behind The Mist) by Pasang Dawa Sherpa (Nepal), Moving Bangladesh by Nuhash Humayun (Bangladesh), Last Time On Earth by Paromita Dhar (India, France), Ghol (The Catch) by Rishi Chandna and Second Chance by Subhadra Mahajan (India). During one-to-one speed meeting sessions, filmmakers will have the opportunity to connect with projects in development looking for co-producers and financiers and one-on-one meetings. This will open new opportunities for filmmakers and it is a great initiative by NFDC in the challenging Covid-19 times. No doubt, Marché du Film (Cannes) is the biggest film market in the world that will be having its online as well as physical edition from 06-15 July, 2021.
Now, OFCOM in Action
It is not just in India that regulation is put in place for video streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney Hotstar, Zee5 and Voot among others. OFCOM, the UK media regulator, plans to regulate streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime in the same level playing field as the BBC and ITV. OFCOM is set to bring on demand services, allowing complaints over inaccuracy and bias. Netflix’s royal drama The Crown was embroiled in controversy with the UK Government — over portrayal of historical events in the drama. It may also be remembered after a lot of criticism a couple of years ago Amazon Prime removed its anti-vaccine documentaries from Prime Video Streaming. Now, countries around the world are waiting for the white paper from OFCOM.
Mohanlal’s Marakkar to get 3-week Theatre Run in 600 Screens
The Kerala film industry has decided to exclusively screen Mohanlal starrer, Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, for a period of three weeks in theatres in Kerala from August 12 to coincide with the Onam festival. This is as per an agreement reached between the Film Exhibitors’ United Organisation of Kerala (FEUOK) and the Kerala Film Producers’ Association (KFPA) to revive the ailing Malayalam film industry hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the decision not to release any other movies during the three-week exclusive window for the Priyardarshan-directed movie was taken based on the inference that a major film was needed to bring back the audience to the theatres once the pandemic situation eased, some stakeholders are questioning the move. How an association can take such an unilateral decision, they wonder.
Zee Denies Merger with Viacom18
Eventhough Zee Entertainment Enterprises has denied there is no credence to reports about a potential merger with Viacom18, it continues to be the talking point among media industry executives. Ashish Agarwal, Company Secretary, Zee Entertainment Enterprises in a regulatory filing to BSE listing department stated that “there is no transaction being undertaken and the matter is speculative in nature.” The market buzz is not something new for ZEE, as the speculation of who will Zee partner with or acquired has been heard on the street for over two years. Only the suitors are changing…
Connectivity & Communication are Basic Rights: Mukesh Ambani
Industrialist Mukesh Ambani has pressed for bridging the digital divide “both among nations and within nations”, and said connectivity and communications have become the fundamental rights of every person. Also, there is a need to bring back the economies around the globe, he added. Addressing the Qatar Economic Forum, he said it is difficult to imagine what India would have been without the 4G telecom network during the pandemic. The Reliance chief said, “The digital divide must be bridged, both among nations and within nations. This is because connectivity and communications have become the basic needs, and also fundamental rights of every human being on the planet (just) as basic as food, clothing, and shelter.”
Dish TV to Raise Rs 1,000 crore
Dish TV India Ltd said its board has approved raising up to Rs 1,000 crore through a rights issue in one or more tranches. In a regulatory filing, the Essel Group firm said, the board of the company in a meeting held on Monday “approved the fundraising of up to ₹1,000 crores through rights issue of equity shares”. It added: “This would be subject to receipt of such corporate, regulatory and other approvals/consents, as may be required under applicable rules, regulations and laws.” Funds would be raised through issuance of fully paid-up equity shares at ₹10 apiece, including premium of ₹9 per fully paid-up equity share, to eligible shareholders of the company as on the record date.
By the Numbers: There are 1.18 billion mobile phones and 775 million Internet users in India
Viacom18 Media which called off talks with Sony Picture Network India (October 2020) is now said to be exploring potential merger with Subhash Chandra’s Zee Entertainment Enterprises. All these days, this was speculated, and today made news in page one of Mint, the financial daily of HT Media. Viacom18 is a joint venture between TV18 Broadcast and Viacom CBS. TV18 is part of Network18 Media (majority owned by Reliance Industries Ltd). Zee is majorly owned by Foriegn Institutional Investors and Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group (3.9%). Network18 and Zee Entertainment Enterprises are listed entities. This merger buzz tops the radar of every media and telecom executive in the country.
Action Time at I&B Ministry
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has never been busy, particularly when it comes to regulatory corrections and new policy initiatives in the media and entertainment sector as we are witnessing now. Cable TV Network Amendment Rules 2021 (giving statutory recognition to self-regulatory bodies), calling for public views on amendments in the Cinematograph (Amendment Bill 2021), The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (registration of self regulatory bodies for video streaming and digital news platforms) top the agenda. The recent interactions by the I&B Ministry officials with all stakeholders and handholding industry explaining the nuances is now happening with regional players too. With all this action, many in the film fraternity (especially independent filmmakers and producers) are looking for long pending announcements with regard to incentive package for film shoots and co-production under the champion sector scheme.The Indian media, entertainment and technology services are witnessing new growth opportunities (in current pandemic times) on the back of growing offshore services domain, especially in animation, VFX, gaming, AR/VR and digital media are keenly looking forward to the draft National AVGC (animation, visual effects, gaming) and AR/VR policy from the government.
Who is Lina Khan
Born and grew up in London to parents from Pakistan, 32-year-old Lina Khan is a champion to protect the public from corporate abuse (read Big Tech). US President Joe Biden has named Khan as Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Earlier, Khan was an Associate Professor at Columbia Law School. She has been one of the vocal critics of tech giants. Khan’s article in 2017 in the Yale Law Journal called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” went viral. No doubt, Lina Khan is now chair of FTC, and feared too. We will get to see her in action in the coming months on what’s in store for Big Tech. Nations across the world are to take a cue from this consumer protectionist.
2,500 buyers, 700 films, 85 countries, at Pre-Cannes Screening
Around 2,500 buyers and festival programmers will be online to discover more than 700 films from around the world at the Pre-Cannes Screenings (June 21-25). These films come from 85 countries and the genres are eclectic (dramas 32%, thrillers 20%, comedies 17%, documentaries 14%, animation 14%, horror 14%). The most represented countries are the USA (198 films), Europe (395 films) including France (78 films) and Asia (108 films). The Pre-Cannes Screenings take place on marchedufilm.online and are reserved for accredited buyers, distributors, streamers and festival programmers. The physical Marché du Film (Cannes Film Market) runs from July 6-15). Due to the pandemic, India will be participating virtually at Cannes Film Market 2021.
Madan’s YouTube Channels Blocked, Videos Deleted
Close on the heels of the arrest and remand of YouTuber ‘PUBG’ Madan, Central Crime Branch has blocked his four YouTube channels and deleted all the videos. Also, police have advised his fans, mostly school students and juveniles, to stop playing PUBG. Madan Kumar Manickam alias Madan OP, an engineering graduate came under police scanner for talking obscenely to under 18 boys and girls through online games and extorting money from them. The games were live streamed from his YouTube channel. Madan and his wife are arrested. On Thursday, the Madras High Court expressed shock to hear the recorded conversations between Madan and his teenage subscribers. The cybercrime wing cops registered a case under sections of the IPC, Information Technology (IT) Act and The Indecent Representation of Women Prohibition Act, 1986, after receiving more than 100 complaints against Madan. Even after the Central government banned PUBG, it is said many are using virtual private networks (VPNs) to continue accessing the game.
Trends of Creator Economy Tracked
Creator Economy is defined as the class of businesses built by over 50 million independent content creators, curators, and community builders including social media influencers, bloggers, and videographers, plus the software and finance tools designed to help them with growth and monetization. The three top trends in the creator economy, according to SignalFire’s Creator Economy market map, are:
Creators moving their top fans off of social networks and on to their own. websites, apps, and monetization tools
Creators becoming founders, building out teams and assembling tools to help them start businesses while focusing on their art.
Creators gaining power in the media ecosystem as fans seek to connect with individual personalities rather than faceless publishers.
Celebrating Music, the Universal Language
For music lovers around the world, today is a special day. For, June 21 is celebrated as ‘World Music Day’. It honours musicians and their contribution towards making everything all that more melodious. World Music Day was first celebrated in France in 1982. The Minister of Art and Culture, Jack Lange, gave this festival a green light, along with a renowned French composer named Maurice Fleuret. Every year, it is celebrated on the day of the summer solstice, which is June 21. The aim behind this was to bring people out on the streets and enjoy themselves listening to the music, however they like it. More than 120 countries celebrate World Music Day and organise free public concerts in parks, stadiums and public places. Music lovers organise different musical concerts and events on this special day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in major disruptions in the M&E business model, it is high time for the sector to forego holding on to old ways of thinking and working, and prepare to engage with the world with a new set of rules to propel growth, says the latest edition of FICCI-EY Report on Indian M&E sector
The COVID-19 global pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to the media and entertainment industry worldwide. Faced with isolation, consumers actively sought alternatives to keep themselves entertained. Thus, 2020 saw demand patterns shift with acceleration in digital media adoption aided by the growth of digital infrastructure. The supply side transformed, too, as M&E companies took the opportunity to reinvent.
“This altered the M&E sector as we knew it. Every segment – TV, radio, print, digital, etc. – had video, audio, textual and experiential products and had begun to redefine itself across those verticals. What didn’t change, however, was the compelling content created around news and escapism, and the passion to build some of India’s most powerful brands,” says Ashish Pherwani, M&E Sector Leader, EY India.
EY India in collaboration with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, has come out with the 2021 edition of the FICCI-EY report on the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) sector—‘Playing by New Rules’—that seeks to capture transformation of the country’s M&E sector and offer useful insights into the new rules of the game.
According to Pherwani, appointment viewing on news television, gamification on e-commerce apps, circulation transformation in print companies, short video on OTT platforms, interactivity and brand solutions from radio companies were some of the many strategic shifts that were seen in 2020.
Saying that India’s diversity and scale will continue to fuel the growth of traditional media, Sanjay Gupta Chairman, FICCI Media and Entertainment Committee, highlights the new and big opportunities for M&E businesses.
“Today content creation and storytelling are much more diverse and come from all parts of the country. New distribution models and monetization strategies are evolving across both large and small screens. Learning content and gaming have emerged as very large new opportunities. These changes are driving a shift in monetization of content investments and this opportunity is global,” says Gupta.
The report points out that the Indian M&E sector fell by 24% to INR1.38 trillion (US$18.9 billion), in effect taking revenues back to 2017 levels. However, there were some silver linings as well. “Several digital trends accelerated their trajectory, fed by growth in broadband, personal devices and smart televisions, and the time and inclination to try online services,” observes Gupta.
“Digital and online gaming were the only segments which grew in 2020 adding an aggregate of INR26 billion and consequently, their contribution to the M&E sector increased from 16% in 2019 to 23% in 2020,” the report says.
Online gaming continues to be the fastest growing segment of the M&E sector for the fourth year in a row, the segment grew 18% helped by work from home, school from home and increased trial of online multi-player games during the lockdown.
Online gamers grew 20% to reach 360 million in 2020. Transactionbased game revenues grew 21%, despite adverse regulation in certain states, while casual gaming revenues grew 7%.
2020 also saw 28 million Indians (up from 10.5 million in 2019) paying for 53 million OTT subscriptions leading to a 49% growth in digital subscription revenues, thus clearly indicating that subscription fared better than advertising revenues.
“Growth was led largely by Disney+Hotstar which put the IPL behind a paywall during the year, increased content investments by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and launch of several regional language products. In addition, 284 million Indians consumed content which came bundled with their data plans,” says the report.
According to the FICCI-EY report, online gaming will continue to grow and reach 500 million gamers by 2025 to become the third largest segment of the Indian M&E sector. The segment will grow across all its verticals viz, esports, fantasy sport, casual gaming and other games of skill, but revenue growth will be led by mobile-based real-money gaming applications across these verticals.
It continues to say that the pandemic disrupted the already fast evolving M&E sector and new rules have been set in place to drive success of the sector.
It lists out some strategic priorities for the Indian M&E sector including Identifying the audiences that matter, building a multi-media and multi-community strategy, addressing community needs apart from just news and entertainment, make end-customer data and insights the core of operating priorities, building customer acquisition efficiency, enhancing speed of product development and change, and reinventing ad sales.
The report points out that globally the M&E industry is under renovation. “The steps taken by media and entertainment companies to streamline the cost base and optimize the operating model for efficiency and effectiveness will remain on center stage as the entire industry plots a course through disruption,” it says.
It also adds that major business conferences, which moved to virtual gatherings in 2020, will continue to utilize digital platforms to extend reach and include remote participants who remain wary of business travel.
Esports and video games will build on a fan and user base that multiplied in size during the pandemic, believes John Harrison, EY Americas Media & Entertainment Leader. “In 2021 and beyond, companies will be successful not because they are better at predicting the future but because they are better able to orchestrate a wideranging ecosystem of in-house talent and external partners, and pivot in a timely, confident manner,” says Harrison.
Although Indian television segment declined 13% in 2020, the report expects television advertising in 2021 to be close to 2019 levels, growing over 20% to reach INR304 billion. Digital segment, too, is expected to grow to INR424.5 billion by 2023 and digital advertising will outpace all other media with paid subscriptions doubling to over 100 million by 2023. According to Pherwani, in effect it will be the same game, but with totally new rules.
All hopes are not lost at a time when the world in general and M&E industry in particular is facing a tough time due to COVID-19. For, a future outlook, part of the FICCI-EY report of March 2021 titled ‘Playing By New Rules’, says the sector to rebound in 2021 and double to around Rs 2.68 trillion by 2025
Path To Recovery
The report said while it expects the M&E sector to rebound in 2021 and double to around Rs 2.68 trillion by 2025, the recovery of various segments will vary. “We expect that different segments will take different periods of time to regain their 2019 (pre-pandemic) revenue numbers.” Assuming no further setbacks, it will take one to two years for TV, film, music, two to three years for animation and VFX, events and beyond three years for print, radio, OOH.
Given that video, audio, text and experiences are available across almost all segments, the M&E sector is redefining itself across these 4 verticals: Video – TV, video OTT; Experiential – Online gaming, cinemas, events, OOH; Textual – print, online news; Audio – radio, music, audio OTT.
Premium consumers (comprising Digital only and tactical digital) will cross 100 million by 2023. The fastest growing segment will be the bundled digital consumer, growing to 399 million by 2023. The free consumer base will also grow as progress continues to spread amongst the 50 million homes today which do not have access to television.
Smart connected TVs will exceed 40 million by 2025, thereby ending the monopoly of broadcasters on the large screen and leading to around 30% of content consumed on large screens to be social, gaming, digital, etc.
Screen count will almost double to near a billion by 2025, of which around 220 million would be television screens and over 750 million would be smartphone screens. This could lead to a massive increase in content creation (news and entertainment) from the around 170,000 currently to over 250,000 hours, as personal consumption (as opposed to group consumption) increases to over 50% of total video time, across a wider set of genres and niche content types.
The share of regional content will increase to 60% of television consumption in 2025 from around 55%1 in 2020 and will increase to around 50% of OTT consumption from 30% in 2019. The need for dubbing, titling, formatting, etc. services to make content mobile will increase.
Online gaming will continue to grow and reach 500 million gamers by 2025 to become the third largest segment of the Indian M&E sector. The segment will grow across all its verticals viz, esports, fantasy sport, casual gaming and other games of skill, but revenue growth will be led by mobile-based real-money gaming applications across these verticals.
Split In Cinema Audience
While cinemas today largely cater to 100 million Indians, mostly top-end audiences, they will now begin to go deeper into India to cater to a wider audience base. Cinemas will continue to cater to top end multiplex audiences who watch movies for their spectacular experience and to enjoy an evening out with friends and family, comprising around over 100 million customers by 2025.
News Reach To Go Up
In 2020, Comscore data indicates that online news had a reach of 454 million as compared to 450 million for online entertainment.
Power of Newspaper
With the shift of premium customers to SVOD, print will increase in importance with respect to such audiences. Large news networks will focus on increasing the collection of regional news to create very strong regional products (print + digital) of extremely high relevance to audiences – news that national and large digital news aggregators may not be able to provide.
Reduced Ad Reliance
Cover price growth is critical for the print segment, in order to reduce the variable loss incurred on each newspaper printed by most print companies, and India could see a doubling of newspaper average cover prices by 2025.
More Focus On Margins
Continued focus on operating margins will be required and made possible by creating state-wide shared services across news gathering, production and distribution while print companies focus on their core capabilities of brand building, community management and editorial excellence.
Video & Audio
Content produced for the video OTT segment will begin to play a more important role in using and promoting music – akin to Bollywood’s link to music – and we could see a lot more music led innovation from this segment.
If YouTube continues to provide recent and video content-linked music for free, the paid OTT music sector will reach 5 million top-end users by 2023, and grow to INR2 billion in revenue, leading to consolidation in the music OTT segment; if not, paid subscribers could cross 50 million.
Radio, the most affordable of all media for consumers, will continue to exist and serve large portions of India through smart phone FM receivers, and play a vital role in retail advertising.
Double Oscar winner Roberto Benigni, a renowned actor-filmmaker, will receive this year’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 78th Venice International Film Festival. The festival in physical format will take place from September 1-11, 2021. Right from his debut, marked by his innovative and irreverent approach to rules and traditions, Roberto Benigni stands out in the panorama of the Italian performing arts.
The decision was made by the board of La Biennale di Venezia, which embraced the proposal of the Festival’s Director, Alberto Barbera.
Alberto Barbera said, “Right from his debut, marked by his innovative and irreverent approach to rules and traditions, Roberto Benigni stands out in the panorama of the Italian performing arts as an unprecedented and unequaled figure of reference.
Juggling his appearances on theatrical stages, movie sets, and television studios, each time with surprising results, he shines in all of them thanks to his exuberance and impetuosity, his generous way with the public, and the passionate joyfulness that is perhaps the most original hallmark of his opus.”
He added: “With admirable eclecticism, and always true to form, he is one of the most extraordinary comedy actors in an admittedly rich gallery of Italian performers; a memorable director who makes enormously popular movies; and, his most recent transformation, one of the most esteemed performers and popularizers of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.
Few artists have equaled his ability to combine explosive comic timing, which is often accompanied by irreverent satire, with his admirable talent as an actor – at the service of great directors such as Federico Fellini, Matteo Garrone, and Jim Jarmusch – and as an engaging and sophisticated literary exegete.”
Accepting the honour, Benigni said, “My heart is full of joy and gratitude. It is an immense honor to receive such an important recognition of my work from the Venice International Film Festival.”
Benigni was born in Misericordia (Castiglion Fiorentino, Arezzo) on October 27, 1952. He began his career in the early 1970s and soon became one of Italy’s most beloved and popular actors, directors, and screenwriters, well-known and appreciated throughout the world.
His film La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful, 1997), which he wrote and directed, received the 1998 Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and in 1999, of the seven Oscar nominations the movie received, it won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor (as well as Best Music, awarded to Nicola Piovani). With the same film in 1999 he won the Screen Actor Guild and Bafta award as Best Actor. La vita è bella is Italian cinema’s most popular movie: 9.7 million spectators. And it goes down in the history of Italian cinema as the Italian movie that has totaled the highest number of spectators worldwide.
There has been a consensus among panel members to completely overhaul the Indian Copyright Act and make it contemporary to modern times and look at changing dynamics by embracing emerging digital ecosystem in the new provisions.
Titled ‘Digital India Copyright Act – Redefining the Future of Creative Works’, the panelists at the Fast Track Digital Series delved deep into the various aspects of the Copyright Act of 1957.
Moderating the session, Trevor Fernandes, Vice President, Govt. Affairs – Asia Pacific, MPA, emphasised the need to protect the intellectual property rights. Fernandes maintained that while revisiting an Act that was last reviewed in 2012 was justified, he cautioned that 2020 was not the time to rush changes without very careful deliberation and policy calibration.
“I think the Copyright Act needs to be overhauled in a substantive and significant manner. Starting off with the digital space, I’d like to see it written in simple language and have non ambiguous clauses and provisions, which make it easier,” said Ameet Datta, Partner – Sai Krishna Associates. “We should include modalities to fight digital piracy.”
Anil Lale, General Counsel, Viacom18, added that piracy needs to be tackled more stringently. “Pirates have no face and territorial boundaries because of the digital space that we are in,” stated Anil Lale.
Ritesh Khosla, Deputy General Counsel, Sony Pictures Networks India said piracy should be redefined in the new Copyright Act. “Piracy is at an industrial scale and it is eating legitimate revenues of the government. It is an economic offense,” Khosla stated.
Talking about the efforts of MPA and the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), Uday Singh, MD, MPA India, said, “The MPA and ACE has been set up as an answer to this multi-jurisdictional and shapeshifting problem. Multiple jurisdictions have tried to put voluntary measures in place and what we have been able to achieve with the Telegram Monitoring Project (TMP) is a very good step in that direction.”
Panelists also debated on ownership of copyrightable works created by artificial intelligence and machine learning. They called for an international convention for a global consensus on this subject.
Copyright is not a state or a national phenomenon. If a copyright is created, it will only be valid if the whole world gives it that protection