No time for release strategy and marketing campaigns:
According to trade analyst Girish Wankhede, the release of small films often lacks a well-defined strategy and marketing campaign. He says, “With the Indian Premier League (IPL) dominating public attention, it becomes even more challenging to engage audiences. Recent examples like ‘Afwaah’ and ‘Jogira Sa Ra Ra’ starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui suffered at the box office due to a lack of marketing strategies.” Wankhede emphasizes the need for smart publicity campaigns and the right media planning, even for modestly budgeted films.
The impact of rescheduling release dates:
One major challenge faced by small films is the rescheduling of release dates. When big budget or highly anticipated films change their release dates, it creates a domino effect that forces smaller movies to adjust their schedules. This leads to reduced screen availability and clashes with other films, ultimately affecting their box office prospects. When Jawan moved from June 2 to August and then finally to September 7, it forced many small and mid-budget movies to reschedule. Even this week’s Zara Hatke Zara Bachke with Vicky Kaushal and Sara Ali Khan in the lead, could barely muster up any significant pre-release promotions. Moreover, rescheduling necessitates new marketing campaigns, adding to the already limited budget of small films. Industry experts and producers agree that spacing release dates well in advance and supporting them with innovative promotional plans is crucial.
Film critic and trade analyst, Taran Adarsh says, “Rescheduling of a big film can really hamper and spoil the process of small films. Everything goes topsy-turvy. Like re-scheduling of ‘Jawan‘, not just small films, even big films got affected very badly. When ‘Jawan’ moves to another day, all the films get affected, because they also have to plan the release.”
The temptation of the theatrical release:
The allure of the big screen remains strong for filmmakers, regardless of the film’s budget. The theatrical release offers a larger gamble and the potential for significant returns. Consequently, small filmmakers often choose the theatrical route followed by an OTT release. Each filmmaker envisions their creation as a cinematic masterpiece, hoping for its success on the grand stage. However, this traditional approach can prove challenging in the changing landscape of the industry. Actor turned filmmaker Himanshu Malik, who debuted as a director with Chitrakut last year, had to wait almost 12 months to have his theatrical release see an OTT release with Jio Cinemas. Himanshu had revealed, “Last year, many OTT platforms weren’t focusing on Hindi films due to the success of South Indian films. The popularity of South Indian movies led to a lack of attention towards Hindi films, and even the top five platforms weren’t showing interest. Films from Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam industries were doing exceptionally well, making it challenging for independent films like ours to gain traction. We were acquired by Jio Cinemas in November 2022, but the launch kept getting delayed. Initially, it was planned for March or April 2023, then during the IPL, and now it’s after the IPL. For an independent film, it’s always a struggle to get noticed and gather an audience. However, as an independent producer, you get accustomed to facing challenges and persisting.”
The need for new age solutions:
In response to the challenges faced by small films, director Shravan Tiwari suggests a combination of star power and great content as the key to success in the current scenario. He highlights, “Success based solely on content is difficult to achieve, while big stars without strong content also face failures. I feel it’s important to provide wider access to theaters by lowering entry fees, enabling all films, including small ones, to find their audience and perform better at the box office.”
The importance of small films in the industry:
Independent producer Kushan Nandy reminds us that smaller films play a crucial role in the industry. He says, “While big-ticket films grab the majority of attention, it is the smaller films that keep a significant chunk of the industry ticking. Despite having less star power, these films often compete with larger productions on the same ticket prices and popcorn rates.” Nandy raises the question of whether the industry will address this issue, recognizing the need to level the playing field.
The potential of alternative distribution channels:
Trade expert Atul Mohan highlights that while small budget films face challenges in the release market, alternative distribution channels like OTT platforms offer opportunities for a wider audience reach. Mohan suggests, “Success can still be achieved through strong content, positive word-of-mouth, and targeted marketing strategies. The rise of digital platforms has provided small films with an avenue to reach viewers who may have otherwise missed them in theaters.”
Solutions for individual and small-scale producers:
Our trade and film industry experts came to a combined conclusion over the following strategies to overcome challenges faced by smaller films.
Targeted Marketing: Small producers should focus on developing effective marketing campaigns that target specific niche audiences. By identifying the key demographics and interests of their target viewers, they can create awareness and generate interest in their films. Utilizing social media platforms, online advertising, and grassroots promotion can help reach the intended audience effectively. The year’s biggest success ‘The Kerala Story’ is a prime example of this strategy. The movie focusses on a specific audience group and through several pre-release communication efforts and strategies, they were able to reach their intended audience and earn 200+ crores of revenue.
Festival Circuit: Participating in film festivals can provide exposure and recognition for small films. These events offer opportunities to showcase the films to industry professionals, critics, and potential distributors. Awards and positive reviews gained from festivals can generate buzz and help secure distribution deals or theatrical releases. Anurag Kashyap‘s Kennedy, is the best example. The film is a small-budget production, but it has managed to create curiosity through its showcase at the recent Cannes Film Festival.
Collaboration with OTT Platforms: While theatrical releases remain important, collaborating with OTT platforms can provide additional avenues for distribution and revenue. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and others offer opportunities for small films to reach a global audience. Negotiating deals with OTT platforms after a successful theatrical run can help small producers maximize their film’s exposure and revenue potential. Manoj Bajpayee‘s recent release Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai created a massive impact on OTT first and has now made a slow but steady transition to theatres as well.
Strategic Release Planning: Careful selection of release dates is crucial for small films. Avoiding clashes with major releases and analyzing market trends can improve their chances of success. Small producers should study the release calendar and identify periods where they can have better screen availability and less competition. A well-planned release strategy can significantly impact the film’s box office performance. The best example of this strategy is ‘The Kerala Story’ which released in the first week of May and cashed in on the ongoing vacation trends to bring female audiences to theatres.
Strong Content: Ultimately, the content of the film remains the most critical factor in determining its success. Small producers should focus on creating compelling and unique stories that resonate with audiences. By understanding the new age sensibilities and studying the audience’s access to international content, filmmakers can tailor their films to meet the evolving preferences of viewers. Great content coupled with robust marketing strategies can help small films make a mark in the industry.
Small films need to outsmart big releases – Final words:
Small budget Bollywood films face numerous disadvantages when competing against big budget productions during their release. Limited marketing budgets, lack of star power, and rescheduling issues make it challenging for small films to attract a wide audience. However, success can still be achieved through strong content, targeted marketing, and strategic planning. The rise of OTT platforms has provided additional opportunities for small films to reach a global audience. By adopting innovative marketing strategies, leveraging film festivals, collaborating with OTT platforms, and focusing on exceptional content, small producers can increase their chances of success in the industry. It is essential for the industry as a whole to recognize the importance of supporting and nurturing small films, as they play a vital role in keeping the creative landscape diverse and vibrant.