Rakshit Shetty's Ekam finds no takers on OTT, furious Kannada filmmakers call underrepresentation ‘heartbreaking’ - Hindustan Times

Rakshit Shetty's Ekam finds no takers on OTT, furious Kannada filmmakers call underrepresentation ‘heartbreaking’

Jun 18, 2024 05:53 PM IST

Rakshit Shetty recently revealed how despite his recent successes, he is still struggling to find takers for his new series Ekam.

Actor, director, producer and National Film award recipient Rakshit Shetty posted on X (formerly Twitter) on June 17, that he was releasing his new Kannada web series, Ekam, on his own platform as there were ‘no takers’ for the series. His statement has stunned audiences and the Kannada film industry insiders. In 2022, Rakshit had a pan-Indian hit with the film, 777 Charlie, and in 2023, he had a Kannada blockbuster with Sapta Saagaradaache Ello - Side A and Sapta Saagaradaache Ello - Side B. The Kirik Party star has always been known for his content-driven films and has had success after success since his debut in 2010. So why was no OTT platform willing to buy his web series? (Also read: Rakshit Shetty beams with pride as he meets pups of the 777 Charlie dog ; fans ask for sequel. Watch)

Rakshit Shetty is among the better known faces from Kannada film industry.
Rakshit Shetty is among the better known faces from Kannada film industry.

Rakshit Shetty wrote on X on Monday, “It was January 2020 when we greenlit Ekam. Or was it February? It's a little hazy now. But it doesn't matter. We were excited. So was the team at Journeyman Films. The time seemed just right for a web-series in Kannada. And then, the pandemic happened. The world turned upside down. It was chaotic and frustrating. But we kept at it. Cut to October 2021, I saw the Final Cut of Ekam. I was thrilled to see it come alive. Thrilled to see the team push the boundaries. And I was thrilled to show it to the world. I couldn't wait! But boy, it's been one hell of a wait. There is not a single avenue we've not explored for Ekam in these last couple of years. But we hit familiar roadblocks every time. However, I think the audience deserves a chance, and the right, to decide the worth of any content. So we decided to bring Ekam to you, on our own platform. You might love it. You might hate it. But I guarantee that you cannot dismiss it. It's a one-of-a-kind attempt that needs to be acknowledged & applauded. I hope you enjoy it as much as we loved making it.”

However, chats with Kannada industry insiders reveal that Rakshit Shetty is not the first filmmaker to have such an experience when it comes to landing an OTT deal. In fact, some filmmakers point out that when such is the situation for Rakshit Shetty, a well-known name, imagine what other filmmakers must be facing. When asked about why Kannada content was not being readily picked up by OTT platforms, Vikrant Rona director Anup Bhandari said, “Recently, I had a meeting with an OTT platform and they told me they’re exploring Kannada content now. I think their confusion has got to do with how some of the previous films fared and what could be the positives or negatives of buying a certain project. I do agree that there was reluctance in buying Kannada content that did not have a star before 2022. 2022 was a good year for Kannada cinema but 2023 wasn’t and the confidence there was on Kannada content was kind of lost because of bad business that OTTs had. In the past, we have seen how Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil content has been bought in bulk by OTT platforms but this hasn’t happened with Kannada.”

Deliver good content

Sapta Saagaradaache Ello director Hemanth Rao is more vocal about what OTT platforms and the Kannada industry need to do to change this situation. He said, “Even I’m very stumped as to why OTT platforms don’t buy Kannada content. I think if I were to apply business analytics and think on their behalf, Karnataka is extremely cosmopolitan in the sense that it's very multicultural. So, even a Tamil film does good business in Karnataka, even a Hindi film does good business in Karnataka, Telugu film does good business in Karnataka and even Malayalam. Which is not the case in any other South Indian state. The local language identity is something that has taken a backseat unfortunately and it is reflective in terms of business. So, when a big player like Netflix or Amazon picks up say Telugu films, they will possibly see that the subscriptions in Bangalore or Karnataka is not reducing, it is increasing. The OTT content buying patterns have completely changed now.”

The Kannada film industry is not as big as other south industries but the type of content that has been emerging in recent years, like Kantara, KGF, Vikrant Rona and 777 Charlie, has shown that their stories do resonate across India. But do the writing and stories also have a role to play in the OTT content game? Anup Bhandari feels that they do and elaborates, “I have to agree that we have a shortage of writers and directors right now. Added to that, we have a handful of stars right now. We need to create more content that is stronger and when it comes to OTT, the kind of films that people watch on OTT versus the kind of movies that are made for mass consumption are quite different. The Malayalam industry has fared well in this aspect. Of late, they have been making small films which are making it really big but this did not happen overnight. It probably started somewhere in early the 2010s and the foundation was laid much earlier because they had prepared their audience for sensible movies from a very long time ago. This was there in Kannada cinema too at one point. As content makers, you need to gain the trust of the audience - which is what we need to do as Kannada filmmakers on a continuous basis. We can’t have one good year and then have a bad phase and then come back a year later. We have to deliver good content consistently.”

OTT players don’t get the Kannada industry

But one aspect that director Hemanth Rao stresses is that the Kannada industry representation in OTT platforms is extremely inadequate. “I know for a fact that we don't have good representation within the OTT platforms and they don’t understand our industry. They don't know who is who. Like, the way they understand the Telugu market or Tamil market, they should have somebody local who knows who is doing good work here. It's extremely heartbreaking as somebody who is a representative of the Kannada film industry. We have a population of 6 crore people in Karnataka. What is shocking though is when you log into this one particular OTT platform, the top 10 films that are ranked in their platform, even to this day, are all dubbed films that are non-original Kannada films! And they don't want to acquire new films. We have tried multiple times. In fact, I have tried multiple times. I have a film that is ready, but OTTs are not ready to pick it up,” said Hemanth with disbelief.

The Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu director explained that the Kannada film industry has no representation within the OTT platforms, which has been a major issue as well. He now says the onus has fallen on the filmmakers to take matters into their own hands and the audiences too need to help them in the endeavour to get Kannada content noticed. “Within every OTT platform, there will be somebody who is in charge of a particular industry. They will have good know-hows of the industry, and it's all dictated by economics and viewing patterns. Unfortunately, the Kannada film industry has no such person within the major OTT players. So, I think the biggest takeaway from this is that the onus and responsibility is on the makers and the audience also. Thus, the stakes have become higher for the Kannada film industry. We have to be better than everybody else. Not just good enough, but we have to be better than everybody else for them to not ignore. If you keep making fantastic films, nobody is going to walk away from it because you are showing that there is business,” said Hemanth Rao.

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