How distribution challenges make it harder for regional cinema to bloom

With films like Sairat (Marathi, 2016) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion making a mark at the box office, the regional film industry in India has definitely got a boost over the past few years. According to the Ficci EY media and entertainment report, most regional film industries clocked double-digit growth in 2017, and the trend is expected to continue.

Having said that, the fragmented nature of regional cinema in the country means that all languages may not, rather will not, grow at the same pace. In fact, experts believe that while the four southern languages and Marathi have found success, regional cinema in general still grapples with some basic issues.

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, director of Bengali films likes Antaheen and 2016’s runway Bollywood hit Pink says, “Distribution is an important issue. Markets like Telugu have an upper hand since Andhra (Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) have more than a thousand screens. Maharashtra also has a large number of screens and so for Marathi films, distribution becomes easier. These languages will, of course, get a fillip.”

He points out that while content may be appreciated until the distribution model is not established. For example, he says, Bangladesh is a huge market for Bengali films, but it has not been tapped into to its full potential. Distribution is also hindered by state policies and ease of doing business within a state expert believe.

While on the one hand distribution continues to be a pain point for certain language films, markets like Gujarat are stifled because of lack of revenue streams apart from theatrical. Director of hit Gujarati comedy Gujjubhai the Great, Ishaan Randeria says, “For Gujarati films, the box office is the main revenue stream. There is no satellite component in a way because there is just one channel that buys content and in a monopoly, it’s not always in the producers’ interest (to sell a film to the one channel).”

As a result, many of these industries lack the investments to improve the quality of production, and at times to even efficiently market films. While tying up with a Bollywood studio is an option, many regional filmmakers feel it may not always be a good idea. “It depends on the script. Some films have a universal appeal and so dubbing or subtitling in Hindi for mass reach makes sense. Others may not have an appeal beyond the region and so you have to take that into consideration,” he adds.

Tamil director Vijay adds that some aspects of the script may need to be changed in this case, and content will need to be adapted according to the market it travels to. “However, there are different forces at play. Getting actors to sign on, for example. It’s not always easy for a movie to travel across languages,” he feels.

While the challenges are many, filmmakers across the board are optimistic that with the emergence of over-the-top (OTT) platforms and their interest in acquiring a diverse library, revenues will start to flow in. The availability of content through legal means may also help curb piracy in India and abroad over the long run. But for now, producers hope to overcome challenges in distribution to make the next Sairat or Baahubali.

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