They aren’t filmmakers but — “You can call us enthusiasts,” says Manas Pratim Kalita, a 25-year-old engineering student based in Guwahati. Enthusiasts entrepreneurial enough to build Northeast India’s first dedicated online platform to stream local movies. Two years ago, Kalita and five of his friends (Spandan, Gunajit, Udipto, Jutika and Sangita) started testing the waters. “We did some market research and ended up with fascinating results. For one, right after Village Rockstars won the National Award earlier this year, there was an increased tendency for people in India to search for ‘Assamese Cinema’ online. We also found out that Jahnu Barua’s Konikar Ramdhenu (2003) has a massive following in Japan!” says Kalita. Insights like this as well as feedback from people in other parts of India who were not aware “if Assamese films even existed”, were enough for the young group to begin working on their platform.
The first Assamese film, Joymoti, was made in 1935 by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala — which set a solid foundation for the Assamese film industry. However, over the years, the industry has been through its highs and lows. While independent filmmakers like Rima Das (who won the National Award for Village Rockstars this year) are breathing fresh life into the industry, the fact remains that outside of the state, Assamese language films barely have any reach. “And even in the region — there are no halls in remote places like Dhemaji and Dhekiajuli. But often, even though erratic, small town Assam does have access to internet — and that led us to come up with our platform,” says Kalita.
On August 18, the group officially launched Movietonne where users simply have to register and pay 40 rupees to watch a film of their choice. While the database has only 16 Assamese films right now, the plan is to include regional language films from across the Northeast. “We are in talks with Khasi and Mizo filmmakers, and maybe in a month or so we will have those too,” says Kalita.
The 16 include National Award-winning films Jooye Poora Xoon (2003) made by Sanjib Sabhapandit, and Munin Barua’s Dinabandhu (2004). “We also have newer ones such as Local Kung Fu by Kenny Basumatary,” adds Kalita. However, it’s not like the portal will focus only on new movies. “The aim is to showcase, expand and preserve. We are trying to get a version Jyoti Prasad Agarwala’s Joymoti — we are already in talks with the Assam State Film Corporation about the same.”
Movietonne is dedicated to Jyoti Prasad Agarwala and even the name is inspired by Chitralekha Movietone — the banner under which Agarwala started directing movies. “Right now, a viewer can watch the movie multiple times under 24 hours for forty rupees,” says Kalita, adding that 60% of the earnings go to the producer, while the startup will keep 40 %. The team will be launching their Android app in October and iOs later this year.