bengali cinema

Seven Bengali films in a single week: The no-win game of Durga puja releases

Boon or bane? Filmmakers and producers believe that the Bengali box office cannot sustain multiple releases.

Seven Bengali films during the Durga Puja week across 250-odd single screens and a handful of multiplexes in West Bengal – and this does not include four new Hindi titles, a Hollywood production, and the overruns of previous Bengali releases. Is this economically sound?

Until a few years ago, a Durga puja release was highly sought after by producers and distributors in Bengal, but the practice seems to have been escalated to unmanageable proportions. Six of the seven films were released on September 22 itself. Bengal’s biggest production house, Shree Venkatesh Films, unveiled Srijit Mukherji’s adventure drama Yeti Obhijaan, in which Prosenjit Chatterjee reprises his role of the beloved Bengali literary character Kakababu, and Raj Chakraborty’s commercial entertainer Bolo Dugga Maiki.

Shree Venkatesh Films co-founder and director Shrikant Mohta is clear about his strategy: “One [Yeti Obhijaan] is for the urban audiences, the other [Bolo Dugga Maiki] is for the rural audiences.” Shree Venkatesh Films have had two puja releases every year since 2010 – one targteted at Kolkata’s multiplex hoppers, the other for suburban crowds.

Star actor and politician Dev Adhikari released his ambitious production venture Cockpit on the same day. Adhikari plays a pilot who has to safely land a Kolkata-bound commercial flight that is hit by bad weather. Then there’s yet another Byomkesh Bakshi mystery, Byomkesh O Agnibaan, produced by Eskay Movies and starring Jisshu Sengupta as the sleuth.

Hit filmmakers Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s production company Windows also released their maiden production venture, Aninddya Chatterjee’s domestic drama Projapoti Biskut. They were joined by veteran filmmaker Swapan Saha’s Shrestha Bangali, starring newcomers Riju and Ulka.

Play
Shrestha Bangali.

Producer Rana Sarkar, of Dag Creative Media, has stayed away from the crowded weekend. He has picked September 27 as the release date for Chawlochitro Circus, a satire on the Kolkata film industry directed by Mainak Bhaumik. The date marks the seventh day of the Durga festival. “In my experience, pre-puja releases don’t work,” Sarkar said. “I have a superhit puja release, Srijit Mukherji’s Chotushkone (2014), which ran for 100 days. The first 38 days saw 100% occupancy. But in the first four days since the Friday release date, there was only 10% occupancy.” Sarkar is promoting his film by saying, “Everyone’s film comes during pre-puja, only we are coming right at the puja.”

Play
Chawlochitro Circus.

Srijit Mukerji has had a puja release every year since his directorial debut Autograph (2010) broke box office records, but he now believes that the golden run ended around three years ago.

“Till 2013, releasing a film during the pujas was profitable,” Mukerji said. “More people came from outside and at any given time, there were more people on the streets than anywhere else. The extra footfalls was a financial advantage. But in the last three years, a lot of competitors arrived and profits were eroded to the extent that any puja release now beings with 25-30% loss in theatrical revenue.”

The number of shows, and profits, get divided between a handful of production houses. “Unfortunately, now it is a status symbol for producers to release their films during the puja week even if they are expecting potential losses,” Mukherji said.

Production companies are guided by their egos rather than business sense, Sarkar claimed. “It’s not that that these films are being released with the thought that puja is a ripe time for business,” Sarkar said, “Now, if a producer releases a film on so-and-so date, another has to release on that day just to compete with it.”

Play
Yeti Obhijaan.

Theatrical revenues have diminished in importance for producers, who instead earn back their investments from satellite and internet streaming deals and releases in Bangladesh. For instance, Yeti Obhijaan, which was shot in India and Switzerland and features substantial stunts and computer-generated graphics, is budgeted at Rs five crores. The film is being released across 80 theatres in West Bengal, 50 screens elsewhere in India and 40 screens in Nepal. A Bangladesh release will follow soon.

“After you take out the satellite deal, the Amazon deal and the distribution deal in Bangladesh, what I have to recover is less than the average budget of a Bengali film,” Mukherji said.

Shiboprasad Mukherjee, who has co-directed many hits with Nandita Roy since 2011, said that in highly competitive times, the production with the lowest budget shoulders the minimum risk. His production Projapoti Biskut cost a humble Rs 69 lakhs to make. Chawlochitro Circus, Bolo Dugga Maiki and Yeti Obhijaan cost Rs 1.2, 3.5 and five crores respectively.

Cockpit costs an estimated Rs three crores, but the landing cost is expected to be much more given that Adhikari launched its music in an aeroplane 36,000 feet above the ground.

Play
Cockpit.

The focus on multiplex economics ignores single-screen theatres in the suburbs of Kolkata and the villages of Bengal. Digital projection costs are too high for small and first-time producers to release films in single-screen theatres. The number of single screens in the state has shrunk from 1,000 to some 250-odd theatres. As of 2010, the number of single screens in Bengal stood at 330 according to a report by the Film Federation of India.

“Most Bengali films do not recover money from theatrical releases,” Sarkar said. “And nobody cares about single screens. It is tragic how they are being neglected. If another hundred single-screen theatres are closed, urban cinema will survive, but rural cinema won’t.”

The lack of theatres and the abundance of films in a single week do not concern Shiboprasad Mukherjee. “Ultimately, the one with the best content will survive,” he said. “There are no big films, small films today. The Mumbai film industry is an example. Look at a film like Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. Or Marathi films like Sairat and Natsamrat. Good content has takers.”

Unlike his peers, Mukherjee is optimistic about the huge number of films running in theatres during the Durga puja week. That several corporations are investing money and space for co-branded advertisements is a sign that Bengali cinema is being seen as a profit centre. “Earlier, a film would get one ad and we would wonder ‘So nice’, but now multiple companies are trying to get associated with Bengali films. That’s a good sign,” Mukherjee said.

Play
Projapoti Biskut.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.

Play

So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.