The conventional moviegoing experience involves buying tickets for the latest Friday releases. But what if you could decide what to watch – and persuade a distributor to screen the movie at a theatre near you?
That is the experience being offered by the movie-on-demand screening company 1018MB. The company was set up in 2015 by Soumya Tandon, Saurabh Devendra Singh, Shishir Ranjan, Santhosh Kumar Sundaram and Abhay Salve, and the aim was to create a platform that would allow users to decide the films they wanted to watch in theatres. These screenings are of the latest releases, unreleased titles, classics and fondly remembered older films. Moviegoers can register on the company’s website, select from among 300 titles, and vote for a film of their choice, depending on their location. Once a quorum is drummed up, the event is listed and a venue is selected. The screening, which is ticketed, is often followed by conversations with the cast and crew members.
In April, for instance, 1018MB has been organising repeat screenings of the recent Malayalam hit Angamaly Diaries in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. 1018MB also teamed up with filmmaker Subhash Ghai for a screening of his 1999 movie Taal at the recently revamped New Excelsior in Mumbai, which Ghai now operates. Screenings have been held of Gangs of Wasseypur, Omdarbadar, Andaz Apna Apna, Disco Dancer and Amar Akbar Anthony.
“The idea is to showcase niche, regional, old movies and foreign-language films, based on audience preference which we capture through our website’s data-analysing system when they vote or demand for a certain film to be screened in a city,” Sundaram said.
The company’s unusual name sounds every bit geeky and provides a hint of the background of some of its founders. Sundaram, Ranjan and Singh have crunched numbers in the banking sector before being united by their love of films and popcorn. The company name is inspired by the numerical value of 1024 megabytes –1018MB is six megabytes short of forming one gigabyte. The remaining six bytes are its five members and the complex data-collecting algorithm on which their online software works.
1018MB’s screening model is a new spin on traditional membership-based film clubs. In Mumbai, for instance, the Prabhat Film Society and the Jio MAMI film club selects the titles – classic films in the former case, new releases in the latter. The app Vkaao, which was recently launched by the PVR Cinemas multiplex chain, allows users to select a movie from its list of acquisitions. Vkaao most recently screened Ken Loach’s acclaimed drama I, Daniel Blake. The multiplex chain set aside screens but ran the movie only when a specific number of viewers indicated their interest in the film through the app.
Other efforts to sate the cinephile’s hunger for movies that go beyond the usual Bollywood-Hollywood fare are streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. What 1018MB offers, though, is the feeling of crowd curation – the idea that cinema lovers can directly suggest what they want to see and make it happen by exercising their vote – and the unmatched experience of watching a film in its natural home, which Netflix and Amazon Prime are less equipped to provide.
Student and film blogger Jatin Makwana has been a regular at 1018MB movie screenings after he tagged along with a friend for a screening of Andaz Apna Apna. “I watched excellent prints of Black Friday and Gangs of Wasseypur,” Makwana said. “It is a great platform for films we missed earlier and would like to watch on the big screen. A question and answer session with director Anurag Kashyap made the event special and different from film clubs and regular screenings.”
The opportunity of interacting directly with fans, which is usually restricted to film festivals, is also a big draw for independent filmmakers, who are often stymied by the current profit-driven distribution model that rewards safe returns over potential risks. Both filmmakers and filmgoers continue to cherish the coveted big-screen experience, but this luxury is not always available to the minnow movie. “We are also looking at becoming an alternative distributor of films that are not able to get a theatrical release,” Ranjan said. “Independent filmmakers who don’t have the budget to afford 2,000 screens can come to us for screenings at a limited number of theatres across cities where we have tie-ups.”
Singh cited the example of the independent Oriya film Capital I, directed by Amartya Bhattacharyya. The 2015 production travelled to various international film festivals but could not be released in the country. A movie enthusiast directed the 1018MB team’s attention to the filmmaker, and a screening was organised.
To make the proposition viable for both parties, 1018MB is tying up with production companies to gain access to their libraries on a profit sharing margin. The company has partnerships with multiplex chains across the country, including Cinepolis, Mukta A2 Cinemas and Carnival Cinemas.
To reach millennial crowds, however, the cinema sometimes has to move its physical location. Like film clubs before it, 1018MB has been holding screenings at restaurants and bars. Arthi Unni, a marketing professional with a consumer goods company in Mumbai, discovered 1018 through a friend. “The concept is nice, they are introducing films at a venue where beer is served,” she said. “People from the production are usually around to discuss the film. It makes our viewing both entertaining and engaging.”
Upcoming titles include Enter the Dragon (1973), Karz (1980), Parinda (1989), Khalnayak (1993), Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! (1994) and Johnny Gaddaar (2007). Tickets are a click away. The winning mantra is more bums on seats.