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Oscar Invites QUBE’s Senthil Kumar to be its Member at Large

admin   July 6, 2020

V Senthil Kumar, co-founder of Chennai-based QUBE Cinema, was recently invited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which confers the Oscars, to be one of its Members-at-Large. He is apparently the first person from the technology and business side of the Indian film industry to be invited. In an interview with Pickle, he talks about the recognition, his passion for cinema and plans for the future

Congrats! It’s fantastic that a person of your stature has been picked to be a Member at Large for the Oscar Committee.

Thank you. It’s a huge recognition to QUBE Cinema. In addition to our technical strengths in the film space, I will definitely try and contribute in making everybody aware of the diversity of Indian movies, not just Bollywood. I am not just in technology, I am very aware. And I have worked in the creative side of movies and television earlier before I became much more tech friendly. I have edited movies, television programs, I have done the sound for a lot of movies. I have been among the first in India to ever mix surround sound and songs along with some of my colleagues. Especially, Sridhar, who’s unfortunately no more. So I have a lot of experience in all of these areas. And I’ve been on the production side and lost money and made money and all of that…

So, big cinemas or streaming service, what goes into your mind now?

No, I don’t have to worry about or I think it has a definite place. I enjoy the ability to watch everything on demand. But I also know that it’s very difficult to really enjoy something, unless you close yourself off from distractions and watch it single mindedly. You shouldn’t have the ability to pause. Because the moment that you have that ability, you will use it and therefore you will be distracted. And it’s not the same thing watching something the way that the director intended. And then it shouldn’t be the way that we pause and walk away and somebody calls you and then you take that call and your wife or your mother or your father, or a pizza man come in between. We should not have that kind of distractions when watching a movie. And, on the business side, how on earth can we earn the same amount of money from OTT? It’s not going to happen even if more people watch it. I am waiting to watch Christopher Nolan’s Tenet because I can’t think of any other film that will be more my kind of movie. And I will go to the theater and watch it.

Aren’t we pushing too much? Shouldn’t we wait for things to get normal? We cannot get into a scenario like walking into a theatre with masks, face shields… even if we are sitting in dark… unimagenable to watch a
movie wearing mask.

Yeah, that’s not practical at all. The understanding seems to have been now that with masks and social distancing, the spread is so low, that it’s fine. And there hasn’t even been an explosion of cases after the protests in the US. The Black Lives Matter protests did not see a huge explosion of cases. So obviously, it’s okay if you follow the measures quickly.

Post October, our theater people have announced that films will get released – Sooryavanshi and 83. Do you see reality in it?

I’m not sure when Covid cases will come down. Some people say it’s going to be September, some say it’s going to be a little earlier. We should be okay for Sooryavanshi when it releases during Diwali.

You have recently talked about removing projectors and installing LED screens…

Digital movie projectors were launched around 1999. They have really served a great purpose and will continue to do so for many, many years to come. I don’t deny that at all. But for the premium experience, it’s definitely going to be LED screens that slowly and surely replace projectors for two reasons. One is the picture quality in terms of brightness and contrast. It can be about 10 times brighter than what you can see. So the picture quality can be unbelievably indistinguishable from reality or as good as you can want. And then there is wider colors, all of that. Plus there’s no operating cost once you install it. It’s just going to keep working without any wear and tear on solid state. So I think the premium screens will go for that first and it will take 15-20 years before it becomes a bit more mainstream. But it will always coexist with projectors for the foreseeable future.

In a blessing in disguise, we don’t have too many theaters. For example in China, there are 70,000 screens. Many are writing about it…

From my discussions with some of the key people in the industry there, they still felt that they had room for a lot more growth in some of the rural areas, not in the urban parts of China, which are kind of overplayed. I think India also has the same problem. I certainly don’t think that there’s room for more cinemas in Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru, but there’s certainly space for more cinemas in UP, Bihar, and even in Chennai. Definitely India needs at least 25,000 screens from the current 9,000.

Why do you think India needs more screens?

India has a difficult problem of too few screens. So these screens are always busy with the bigger films. Somehow we need to free this up so that it’s easier for people to break up the big screens into smaller screens, and make that kind of a change very quickly and easily. It is actually surprising that nobody has done this business model and rolled out hundreds and hundreds of smaller theatres everywhere. Of course, in the cities, it’s not going to be viable because of the real estate prices. But I’m talking about just in semi urban and rural areas.

Do you feel cinema is overregulated?

Yeah. Cinema has been over regulated because unfortunately it was the only thing in those days and it was regulated heavily because we were in the license permit tracks. But cinema alone has not been completely freed up. Why should you have pricing controls? Why should you have all of these separate permissions, including police permissions for cinemas? It needs to be a single window thing in every single State.

My pet peeve is about the lack of parity between the OTT and cinema in terms of certification. If OTT doesn’t need certification, we should not have certification 9 India’s Only Film BIZ magazine for the world for cinema. And it doesn’t mean that we should do the opposite and bring certification for OTT, because YouTube will always be a user generated content, which we simply cannot certify. So it’s only right to just free up everything and let the market decide.

What’s the action in QUBE?

We have the advantage of being one of the five DCI compliant equipment, server manufacturers. And that’s an advantage because it gives us a deep understanding of the security of DCI and the mastering process in DCI because we again make the software for mastering for digital cinema. So that expertise of security and quality is getting on to some of the other products, so we built an amazing product called QUBE Wire which delivers the content around the world to theatres as well as manages the rights of the content. With territorial rights management and data control, all in the rights management system very similar to the DCI structure, it’s a patented technology across many countries in the world. So this allows the movies to sub-assign the movie and the rights for different territories. This also allows the business to grow because sometimes I might finish a movie on Monday or Tuesday, but I still needed to release in 60 to 70 countries on Friday. QUBE Wire can make that happen. And we can expand the number of countries. The QUBE Wire system is installed in all of the major chains In the Middle East, it’s installed in a couple of the major chains in Australia as well.

Finally, how have you been spending time in Covid period?

There’s been a lot of work on managing situations as it arises. We are also working on our existing products that are in the pipeline. But, being little freer and not having much other stuff to do gives you new ideas. And we are working on a few things. We have lived through good and bad times in the company, including now the worst possible time. Three months of zero business is something that nobody ever thought of.

We Begin our year with Berlinale

admin   February 20, 2020

With localization business seeing an exponential growth owing to the rise of OTT platforms, VR Films and Studios Limited sees a huge potential in the
European market to cater fresh content to the Indian and SAARC markets that can be dubbed in local languages, say Manish Dutt and Krishi Dutt, Directors, VR Films and Studios Limited

What is your objective at Berlinale 2020 and European Film Market?

At Berlinale, we will catch up on European cinema and will look forward to the acquisition of content driven features for India. We are in talks with some European players for collaboration on film production and at this Berlinale will meet them to take it forward. We also look forward to connecting with people for our localization business, and in this way, we bring the world closer back home.

Berlinale is celebrating 70 years this year and you have been a regular at Berlin for over a decade now. How has Berlinale influenced or impacted you?

Berlinale for us has always been very important and is always the first festival and market with which we begin our year. We have been regularly coming here for the last 10 years. Berlinale provides a fabulous platform to European Cinema where one gets to see the very best from Baltic, Scandinavia, East Europe, Central Europe, West Europe, the UK, and many more countries. It is always a pleasure to come here and meet our film fraternity friends from the world over. Also, it’s such a delight to see India being prominently represented for the last two years, creating business opportunities with the best international film houses.

Film ‘Parasite’ has won the Best Picture at oscars? How do you see this change? You have been working very closely with south Korea’s CJ Entertainment?

CJ Entertainment has been a good friend of ours. We have acquired many Korean titles from them for the Indian Sub-Continent. ‘Yoonhee’, ‘Eunji’, and ‘Namyoung’ need a special mention as they have been very kind, accommodating and have always worked hard to get Korean Cinema to our part of the world. ‘Parasite’ is a fantastic film with a beautiful screenplay, very good direction and performances. There is not a single moment in the film which forces you to drift away. It keeps you spellbound irrespective of the fact that you may not understand the language; it transcends all such boundaries. No wonder the film swept all the major awards including the Palme D’or, Golden Globe and now Oscars. In the last Cannes Film Festival, CJ Entertainment was very keen on us acquiring ‘Parasite’ for the Indian Sub-Continent. But since our plate was already full, we let it pass. I guess one loses some and wins some, but nevertheless we are very happy for all of them and more happy to see them all make lots of money. Content is surely the king at the box-office.

All along, VR Films has been working to bring European cinema to India. With localization in full swing because of streaming is there any action now on this front?

Yes indeed. We have been working in this space for the last four years-meeting production houses and agents from all over Europe with the hope that one day the doors for such brilliant cinema would open in India. Thanks to the surge in OTT platforms that such cinema is now having viewers in India. The younger generation is keen on watching such Cinema and this brings lots of opportunities for our other business — localization — as Indians like to hear and watch movies rather than read (subtitles) and watch them. We have more than 65 dubbing studios across India, and we are working around the clock dubbing foreign content for OTT and TV in Hindi and other Indian regional languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Urdu, neutral English, among others. Currently, we clock around 400 hours of dubbing per month and the demand is still growing. Hollywood films too are getting localized in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu and we continue to do a lot of work for major Hollywood film studios.

This january, we became a member of Netflix’s NP3 (post partner program), which is a huge achievement as it gives us the opportunity to dub their content in Indian languages…

Which projects are you working on? What are your goals for 2020?

We started 2020 with the Theatrical Release of “The Courier” starring Gary Oldman and Olga Kurylenko.

We look forward to Russell Crowe starrer ‘Unhinged’ that we have acquired to distribute in the Indian Sub-Continent. It will have a wide theatrical release in Q3 this year in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and English. ‘Jolt’ is another exciting title starring Kate Beckinsale which will release in Q3/Q4 this year. We also have a horror title from the UK, ‘The Power’, that is slated for release in 2020… So it’s packed 2020 for us. Apart from these three films, we have many other titles that are in production and will have 2021 release. For our localization business, we are setting up more studios as this business is growing with every passing day. We intend to get into the production of content too for which we are in talks with many players.

We started our relationship with Amazon Prime Video and put some of our Titles on their platform and they are performing well.

Featured Post


admin   August 30, 2019

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival will, like the editions that have gone before, will see the emergence of a clutch of Oscar favourites. The focus of observers will be not only on the film that wrests the festival’s coveted Audience Choice Award, but also on a host of other buzz-generating titles By Saibal Chatterjee

World cinema greats like Pedro Almodovar (with the autobiographical Pain and Glory, which fetched Antonio Banderas the best actor award in Cannes), Bong Joon Ho (whose Parasite bagged the Palme d’Or this year) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth (follow-up to the 2018 Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters) in the TIFF program seeking to launch their Oscar bids.Which are the other TIFF films that have the power to capture attention in the awards season?

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, isn’t premiering in TIFF. The Netflix film arrives in Toronto after competing in Venice. The indie director’s new drama, which delves into a once-happy marriage falling apart under the weight of the clashing individual compulsions of the partners, promises to be one of the buzziest titles at the festival. Marriage Story, ironically focused on a divorce, also has notable performances from Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta Both Driver and Johansson have another title each in the TIFF 2019 programme – the former is in The Report, the latter in Jojo Rabbit. Both films are expected to be talked about in the lead-up to the Oscars.

The Report, Harriet, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Harriet, Jojo Rabbit

Another film that is most certainly up for Oscar glory is the Tom Hanks starrer A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, directed by Marielle Heller. While Hanks is one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? earned three Oscar nominations earlier this year, including two in acting categories (for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant.

In A Beautiful Day…, one of over one hundred world premieres in this year’s TIFF line-up, Hanks plays children’s television host Fred Rogers who becomes the subject of a profile for a cynical, reluctant New York journalist (Matthew Rhys).

The TV personality’s wisdom and generosity transforms the writer who starts out with the intention of rustling up a superficial writeup. But the encounter turns out to be much more than that. The film is based on Tom Junod’s Esquire article about his experiences with Rogers.

Todd Phillips’ Joker, a comic book movie with a difference, narrates the origin story of the arch-villain. The eponymous character is played with customary vim and vigour by Joaquin Phoenix. While the lead performance will surely be on the Academy’s radar leading up to Oscar night in 2020, the film is in with a chance to become the second comic book movie (after Black Panther) to earn a Best Picture nomination.

This searing portrait of the quintessential bad guy is set in early 1980s crime-infested Gotham City. The cast of Joker includes Robert De Niro as a talk show host who is idolised by Arthur Fleck, a hard-up clown who aspires to be a successful stand-up comic and, thwarted in more ways than he can countenance, lets the demon inside him wrest control of his being and turn him into a crazed killer.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Joker, Bad Education, Parasite

We will also be keeping an eye on the flight of The Goldfinch, the John Crowley film that Warner Bros. will launch at TIFF. Starring Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort, the film adapts a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt about a layered coming-of-age crime story woven around a young man who loses his mother in an art museum bombing.

Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio that won the 2017 Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water, will bet big this year with Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, another buzzy TIFF world premiere.

The inventive film centres on a German boy who, on discovering a Jewish girl hiding in his home, consults his imaginary best friend Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself).

Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas, is a sharp dramatization of the Panama Paper leaks, which revealed the unsavoury world of global finance. Adapted from an investigative journalist’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reportage, the film has been scripted by Scott Z. Burns, who also has his own directorial project, The Report, in TIFF.

The Report, a powerful expose of CIA’s torture tactics, stars Adam Driver as an investigator deployed by the US Senate to probe the country’s use of third-degree methods post-9/11.

The Laundromat, Pain and Glory, Marriage Story, Radioactive

The cast includes Annette Bening, who could well be in Best Supporting Actress Oscar contention for her part in a political thriller that tracks one man’s dogged, half-decade pursuit of answers to many questions triggered by CIA’s unbridled use of torture as a tool of investigation.

Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, which world premieres at TIFF, could make amends for the total snub that the Scottish director’s most recent film, The Death of Stalin, received from the Academy. The new film is bolstered by a cast of proven actors – Dev Patel plays David Copperfield and is supported by Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and Hugh Laurie. Iannucci imparts a decidedly contemporary sensibility to the Charles Dickens 19th century classic.

TIFF hosts the North American premiere of Benedict Andrews’ Seberg, the biopic of French nouvelle vague icon Jean Seberg. The titular role is played by Kristen Stewart in a drama in which the FBI turns the spotlight on the actor owing to her growing friendship with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal. Among the less fancied titles that might acquire a higher profile by the end of the festival is Cory Finley’s Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney and Ray Romano. It is based on a true story of a financial crime in the US school system.

This film, as much a character study as a dramatized account of a massive coverup of a scandal. Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, featuring Tonywinning Broadway actor Cynthia Erivo, is another film that has the potential to attract wide awards season attention. It is the rousing biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and led other to freedom through a network of safehouses known as the Underground Railroad.