It’s Shiladitya Bora who has come up with an online paid portal – Cinemas of Assam – which will give the global audience an opportunity to peep into the window and enjoy the reel magic of Assamese cinema.
The first Assamese film, Joymoti, was released in the year 1935. The maker of the film, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, faced an uphill task making the film – the major problem being lack of trained technicians. The doyen wrote the script of the film and was also the producer, director, choreographer, editor, set and costume designer, lyricist and music director of the film too!
Jyoti Prasad Agarwala also had to do a lot of running around to screen the film. As there were no cinema halls in Assam to screen the film, the film was released at Rownaak theatre in Kolkata (then Calcutta). In Assam, it was first released at Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir in Uzan Bazar, Guwahati.
Since then, Assam has seen many brilliant filmmakers who have won several national and international awards. Their complete oeuvre would have fetched even more rave reviews had there been a proper strategy to market the films as well as enough cinema halls to screen them.
Today, more than 80 years later, filmmakers in Assam are still grappling with the problem of marketing their films as well as exhibiting it. There are still not enough halls in Assam and Assamese films, unlike South Indian, Marathi or Bengali films, do not manage to reach out to a larger audience. In the run-of-the-mill kind of Assamese films, the storyline is very weak and the direction loose. The films do not adhere to the basic grammar of filmmaking. The hall owners are also not willing to screen Assamese films in the prime time slot as they feel that cash registers will not jingle. Films made by celebrated makers like Jahnu Barua win a lot of awards at the film festivals both in India and abroad, but due to the lack of a concrete marketing strategy and publicity blitzkrieg, most of his films are not a huge draw at the halls.
Against such a bleak scenario, few budding filmmakers have emerged in Assam who is pregnant with new, unconventional ideas. They are like a silver lining in the dark cloud. The launching of the online paid portal ‘Cinemas of Assam’ on July 1 2016 is a push towards lifting the sagging fortunes of the Assamese film industry. This portal can be used as a platform by the directors to reach out to audience worldwide.
Shiladitya Bora, founder of Cinemas of Assam, said, “I have been involved with the distribution of more than 100 films both in the theatres as well as globally. The Assamese film industry is ailing due to the lack of proper infrastructure like limited numbers of theatres and a proper platform devoted solely to Assamese films. By launching this portal, we want to address these issues. The idea is to make quality Assamese films available for movie buffs.”
“This whole portal thing is a relatively new concept for the Assamese film industry. It is slowly catching up and I am confident that in the next six to eight months, www.CinemasOfAssam.com is going to emerge as a major substantial revenue contributor for the filmmakers/ producers,” asserts Bora.
What kind of films would find a place in this global portal? Bora said that films which have a global appeal and which have been screened at premier film festivals will be given priority. We want our films to be viewed by the non-Assamese audience apart from our own Assamese viewers.
Bora further stated, “The online platforms are extremely strict about quality. Since this is a paid platform, the customers only pay for good quality films. We are constantly working on ways to reduce the costs. We have special deals with Apple-approved encoders that allow us to provide the best possible deals, given our volume. Additionally, encoders have a habit of charging for a number of additions which we do not. Our services include ingest, processing, quality control, repairs, artwork preparation, chapter creation, metadata preparation, closed caption conformance, audio conformance, transcoding, packaging, delivery and platform specific visibility.”
“We want to develop an Assamese film category on leading digital platforms like Netflix, GooglePlay, iTunes, VHX, and so on. By focusing and working on both Bollywood and regional content, we have the ability to create a destination for our community worldwide. We are totally focused on the specific needs of the Assamese film industry and understand the complexity on rights, terms and the specifics required to get our films into acceptable International QC standards. We are distribution specialists and our only objective through www.CinemasofAssam.com is to show good Assamese films in many global outlets as possible.”
How will the filmmakers get benefited by this portal? Bora informed that they were the portal pioneers in making Indian films available across international platforms. Cinemas of Assam, he said, understand the global challenges and the revenue generation aspect. “We act as an extension of the filmmaker’s office and provide them the platform to distribute their film directly. We pay for the digitizing content of the filmmakers so that they have no upfront investment. Instead of their films gathering dust, we invest and merchandise it on the biggest e-commerce platforms in the world. We are committed to provide them the maximum value and have amongst the lowest revenue share rate in the world.”
He further informed that the filmmakers would be benefitted in the form of additional revenues, increase in audience base and greater exposure. But, Bora emphasized that the Assam Government should initiate developing the theatrical infrastructure as theatrical marketing for film will support the secondary market. There will be more representation/ screening of Assamese films at global film events. However, Bora believes that releasing Assamese cinema online is still in its nascent stage and would catch up in few months’ time.
Bobbeeta Sharma, Managing Director, Sangita Communications Private Limited, remarks, “It is good to know that a platform has come up for producers of Assamese cinema. Marketing Assamese films is not an easy job. DVDs of Assamese films are not easily available in the market. Many a times distributors are not willing to market an Assamese film unless and until it wins an award or is directed by an award winning filmmaker. But, there are lots of Assamese films which may not have won an award but is very rich in content. Now, these films can be seen through www.CinemasofAssam.com.”
Bobbeeta further stated that a lot of Assamese people living abroad will be able to watch good Assamese films through this paid portal. She also maintained that the Assam Government should hold more and more of film festivals in the State so that the world outside gets a knowhow about our rich culture and heritage. “Producers should first release their films in the halls and only then release it online. If the films are released online first, nobody would come to watch it in the theatres,” she said.
Veteran actor Nipon Goswami asserts, “I am sure that Assamese cinema will soon see a new dawn. I recently watched Doordarshan Eti Jantra which is running housefull. The new Government in Assam has done an excellent job by reducing the Assam Amusement and Betting Tax. Now, the producer and hall owner will have equal share of profit. The need of the hour is to set up more halls, especially in the rural areas, with a seating capacity of 300 to 400 people.”
A minimum of 500 halls should be set up in Assam so that Assamese films reach out to the nook and corner of Assam. The State Government should play a major role in promoting Assamese films. Assam right now boasts of only 65 halls out of which only 14 to 15 are state-of-the-art kind. It is not just the hall which matters. Films with good content should also be screened. When a family comes out to see a film, it should be a kind of good outing for them. The building where the theatre is housed should have good eateries and shopping outlets a la the PVRs. Only if the ambience is good and cleanliness is maintained in the halls, will people get drawn towards watching flicks in theatres. At the end of the day, they are paying for it. The sound system should also be good.
The competition is very stiff these days. Once a film is released, within few months it is shown on television. So, only spiffy halls and good quality films will draw people towards the theatres. Otherwise, people would like to watch it in the comfort of their drawing room/bedroom. And this counts for Assamese movies too. The most important part is that the script of Assamese movies should be very strong – the kind which clicks with the general masses.
With the launching of the paid portal, the Assamese film industry, which is still in the woods, may finally see a new dawn.