A cinema hall in India
A cinema hall in India | PVR CINEMAS | Facebook
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New Delhi: The UK-based MUBI may be the latest kid on the block in India’s increasingly saturated online-streaming landscape, but it is by no stretch a newbie in the world of cinema, having previously partnered with cinema legends like director Martin Scorsese.

What began in 2007 as a social networking forum for movie nerds called The Auteurs, MUBI has now evolved into a cinephile-favourite service available in more than 190 countries boasting of more than 9 million current subscribers.

What sets it apart from its rivals, however, is that instead of offering an a la carte collection of hundreds of movies and TV shows, it offers only 30 highly acclaimed films at a given time that are made available for a limited period of 30 days — a modern day version of a theatre with a cyclical schedule.

The company now has its eyes set on the Indian market, despite the fact that it has already been three years since American digital giant Netflix’s launch. The relatively smaller company, which prides itself on being a “curated” service, has chosen a novel approach to make its presence felt in movie-loving India by collaborating with PVR, India’s largest operator of multiplexes.

In a “first of its kind” alliance between exhibitor and streamer, the ‘MUBI GO’ plan offers its subscribers (who are currently being lured with an introductory offer of Rs 199 for three months) one free PVR Cinema ticket every week for a film selected by MUBI. The ticket can be used at any PVR Cinema across India that’s showing the film.

Founder and CEO Efe Cakarel is a firm believer of watching movies on the big screen and doesn’t want MUBI to “replace the cinematic experience” but merely widen its accessibility, teaming up with a company like PVR is a fitting choice.

Digital might be thriving today, but to forget the scores of movie-going audiences in the subcontinent is foolish and MUBI realises that.

Streaming services have often been pitted against traditional theatre-going and even television-viewing for how they have been feared to cut into sales and alter consumer behaviour. But the MUBI-PVR partnership cashes in on the fact that millennials are increasingly spending their disposable income on experiences, and seeks to brand film appreciation as specific cultural experiences in the sea of culinary, travel and retail experiences currently vying for our attention.

Kamal Gianchadani, CEO, PVR Pictures, tells ThePrint, “At PVR, we always try to innovate and push the envelope. This tie-up dispels the myth that cinemas and OTT cannot collaborate.”

He feels the partnership will help break the idea that PVR is only meant for mainstream blockbusters. “Our collaboration with MUBI will help us expose more movie-goers to specialised films and increase their theatrical success.”

Also read: PVR to offer free tickets to subscribers of UK’s Mubi movie streaming service

Tailored to India

The idea for MUBI first came to Çakarel while he was sitting in a cafe in Tokyo in 2007 and despite the 53 megabits per second broadband speed and the fact that Japan was the world’s third biggest film market, there was not one website on which he could view the Wong Kar Wai classic In the Mood for Love (2000). So he set out to work on a business model that had a vision years beyond home-videos, DVDs and pay-TV.

In India too, the approach is to bring to the table the very best of world cinema, but also make easily available the best of India’s cinematic heritage and showcase everything from art-house films to new-age indie movies. On the special India channel, the films currently on offer include classics such as Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) and Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960), cult favourites like Kamal Swaroop’s 1998 surrealist experiment Om Dar B Dar and the more contemporary Binnu Ka Sapna (2018) by writer-director Kanu Behl.

There is also a curated collection titled Mumbai – Cinema and The City, which consists of handpicks films with nuanced explorations of the metropolis, such as Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Naseem (1995) and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989), Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1998) and Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman (1978).

To hone its India-specific collection, MUBI has joined hands with Times Bridge, and brought on board Oscar-winning executive producer Guneet Monga to serve as its content advisor. Monga, who won an Academy Award for her film Period. End of Sentence. (2018) and has hits like The Lunchbox and Gangs of Wasseypur to her credit, brings to the table a massive wealth of experience within the Indian film industry, which will be instrumental in defining the content profile.

“I’ve been a fan of MUBI for many years now,” Monga tells ThePrint. “Its human approach to curation is refreshingly simple and each day it is guaranteed that you will be able to watch a beautiful, interesting film. I’m thrilled we have launched a dedicated channel for Indian cinema as it means that film lovers can now watch amazing films like Salaam Bombay! and Andaz Apna Apna, alongside globally renowned gems like Moonlight.”

Not another Netflix

MUBI’s emphasis on a narrow and strong selection might work to differentiate it against services like Netflix and Amazon, whose mammoth collections can sometimes overwhelm users. Recall how satirical website The Onion once took a jibe at Netflix mocking it for not having a single good film, and the endless Instagram memes about how frustrating it can be to go down the rabbit-hole of browsing for hours to find something you want to watch. The fact that MUBI’s selection only stays available for a period of 30 days further pushes users to make the most of their subscription.

“We make our films available on MUBI in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or frustrate people as we introduce one new hand-picked film a day, chosen by film experts who look at local culture and cinema to decide what people would enjoy watching in that market,” Cakarel tells ThePrint.

Cakarel, however, has always maintained that his aim is not to compete with Netflix, and features like the online publication Notebook — which includes reviews, essays and interviews, plus special programmes for film school teachers and students — point to the fact that it is bent on creating a community of cinema lovers, not just consumers.

“We’re focused on human curation and all of our films are hand-picked by the MUBI team, with the choices being guided by local culture and cinema. We look at what specific markets enjoy and then programme the film selections based on that — we don’t use algorithms.”

Also read: Disney+ could bring peace to the disruptive landscape of streaming services


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