Earlier this year, Assamese filmmaker Himjyoti Talukdar’s Calendar opened in Assam to positive reviews. However, due to lack of finances, the indie filmmaker was unable to take the film to Assamese audiences in other cities. That’s when he reached out to the team of 1018mb, a ‘movie-on-demand’ screening company, based out of Mumbai. Talukdar wanted screenings of his film in the metro cities and was willing to use his own network to spread the word among the Assamese community. “The film, about an ageing couple and their relationship with their son, has since had multiple shows in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore. Using our 900-screen network across India, we have been able to provide the filmmaker with the slots he wanted with an occupancy that a regional film otherwise would rarely see,” points out Santhosh Kumar, one of the core team members of 1018mb.
1018mb, which began operations in late 2015, started out based on the ‘movie-on-demand’ concept. “The idea was that if there is a popular film that the audience wants to watch on the big screen, we arrange it. So, initially, we got rights to screen classics such as Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron and Andaz Apna Apna, which continue to do well even today,” explains Kumar, who is one of the five founders of 1018mb.
The model they started out with, worked, and 1018mb has now tied up with multiple multiplex chains, including Cineplex and Cinepolis, which allows them access to 900 screens across India, including Tier 2 and 3 cities. They use a distribution model and share the revenue with the multiplex as well as the producers of the film. “Since we do not hold a show without a minimum of confirmed 30-40 per cent bookings, we don’t face occupancy issues. This also gives multiplex chains the incentive to give us the slots we demand,” says Kumar, explaining the model. The tickets are priced at the same rates as a cinema would sell them at.
The company also entertains requests. So, if fans or a fan club of an actor, filmmaker or a particular film reach out, requesting for a specific screening, we arrange it for them. “Most of them are for classics or regional films. But we even received requests for Govinda’s Raja Babu and Padmaavat,” Kumar points out. A large part of the company’s resources is spent on arranging the content. Parth Savla, in charge of the job, often spends months trying to find a print of a classic, sometimes only to fail. “It took a year for me to source Aradhana and Amar Prem. The distribution rights of a Hindi classic often change hands and it takes time to track the concerned person. On the other hand, a DCPs (Digital Cinema Package; the format compatible for digital screenings in theatres) of English films are tough to find. In such cases, we opt to screen Blu-Ray or DVDs of those films in non-theatrical venues, such as preview theatres and pubs,” Savla says.
As and when they can, the team ropes in the makers of a film for a round of interaction with the audience. For instance, they had Anurag Kashyap for a screening of his film Gulaal. “Very often, our audience comprises fans or youngsters who experiment with genres and content. For them, such interactions are value addition,” says Kumar.
However, after a successful run of over two years, where they have managed to build a loyal audience base across the metros using social media, 1018mb is now looking to lend their business a new dimension. Encouraged by the response to Calendar and similar films, the team wants to expand their role as distributors. The Malayalam film Angamaly Diaries, for instance, has seen at least two screenings every month across multiple cities and managed to garner a response. They are now reaching out to the makers of National Award-winning films and those that do well at festivals. The vision that Kumar and his colleagues have, may be able to provide an alternative distribution model to smaller films and indie filmmakers. Apart from 1018mb, only PVR offers ‘movie-on-demand’ screening services under the brand Vkaao. While PVR has a library of acquired titles, they stick to popular titles as opposed to 1018mb which is focussing on
“Like Talukdar, the makers of such films struggle to release their films in theatres. We realise that we can bridge that gap, providing filmmakers an opportunity and avenue to reach out to an audience, however niche it may be,” Kumar explains. “It’s even easier for us to do that for documentary films that are one-hour long or so because the theatre can simply squeeze a show between its regular screenings. And we can provide non-theatrical venues to films that don’t have a censor certificate.”