Will theatres survive pandemic: Mahesh Narayan and Amazon content head debate

Mahesh Narayanan Vijaya Subramaniam
Combo image Mahesh Narayanan and Vijay Subramaniam

The Fireside Chat on 'Streaming Content Ecosystem' at Techspectations on Saturday saw two competing models vying for space, one trying to hold on and the other trying to edge out the other, at a turning point in the evolution of the entertainment industry in the country.

While writer-editor-director Mahesh Narayan continues to yearn for the theatrical “first day first show' experience, Vijay Subramaniam, the director and head of content, Amazon Prime Video India, said the goal at Amazon was to provide a “near theatrical” experience at home.

According to Mahesh Narayanan, the growing popularity of streaming content could force theatres to experiment with the viewing experience and bring about revolutionary changes. At the moment, Mahesh feels theatres exist in a long-forgotten era. They seem to have lazily turned their back on technological advancement.

When we shoot, we use high resolution 6K and 8K cameras. But our theatres still project in 2k,” Mahesh said. Nonetheless, the editor-turned-director is confident that the moment the 5G spectrum hits India, from that moment on, big screen theatres will shift to streaming content. "I have heard that research is already on about the use of LED displays in big-screen theatres," he said.


He said he adoption of new technologies would transform and enhance the theatre-viewing experience. “The new projection systsem would be a low-maintenance one, with operators working from home and viewers joining in from various parts of the world. A Malayalam film could be viewed even in as distant a place as New Zealand at the same time," Mahesh said. “We want theatres back on track,” he added.

Mahesh, it was clear, was highly nostalgic for the 'first day first show' experience.

But Amazon' Vijay is here to disrupt models. He acknowledges that theatre-going is an integral part of the country's entertainment experience. Meantime, disruptors like Amazon will do all they can to give the very same experience at home. He said that India was already short of theatres, 9500 for 1.3 billion people. "This is not going to go away," Vijay said. Indirectly, he was hinting that scaling up theatres, as Mahesh wants, is prohibitively costly, and therefore not practical.

Vijay but gave proof why things are going the way of disruptors like Amazon. "The cost of smart televisions that can provide a near theatrical experience at home is coming down. Data costs too are falling," he said.

"In the long term we want creators to use our platform to overcome this handicap," he added.

This is not to say that Mahesh had not found the experience of 'C U Soon', which was released on Amazon, exciting. He said he making of 'C U Soon' forced him to make radical changes in filmmaking, especially n the logistics of it. He brought down the number of crew member, and managed to hold he shooting under one roof. “We started the shoot in June and released the film on Amazon on September 1,” he said, with a smile that suggested that speed from shoot to release was unbelievable.

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