T-town bigwigs such as Suresh Babu and Allu Aravind, who are already competitors in film production, distribution and exhibition in the two Telugu states, are now going to fight it out for a share of the digital pie too.
Though Aravind has a head-start with his digital platform Aha, which launched in March 2020, Suresh Productions has enough resources and manpower to come up with an exclusive digital platform too.
Admitting that he is keenly observing the happenings in the digital arena and studying various modules in place Suresh Babu tells us that they are definitely going to explore the digital space.
“However, we haven’t set any timelines as we have a great legacy to follow. I know a few people are making some money in varied modules. We have the resources and a good team to churn out content for films or the Web on any given day. I am discussing with the Next Gen members in my family, which I think would be crucial to take a final call,” he shares.
We remind him that his arch rival Allu Aravind has also taken the plunge into digital space.
“Firstly, we are not rivals. In fact, we are really good friends,” he says, attempting to correct perceptions. “And he is free to take his own decisions. Actually, we are two different people doing our own set of businesses in our own space and time.”
Room for all
Web series in Telugu are relatively young, with just over 15 originals having been aired so far, including Pelligola, Loser, Locked, G.O.D, and Mastihave. A few others on the space are dubbed versions from other languages.
Nonetheless, Telugu ZEE 5 has gained prominence in the last two years.
“We are glad to be torch-bearers in the Telugu digital space. Having started two years ago, we made it easier for others by showing what kind of content goes into the digital space and connects with discerning Telugu viewers,” says Aparna Achrekar, Programming Head, ZEE 5, India.
Aparna, however, feels undeterred by competition from Tollywood biggies such as Allu Aravind. “We would always welcome healthy competition because it is inevitable in any business. In fact, we need more players to expand the Telugu digital space to provide more opportunities to actors, directors and technicians. However, our team will work even harder to retain our NumeroUno slot with more refreshing shows.”
Validating Aparna’s claim that ZEE 5 occupies the top spot in the digital arena, Sushmita Konidela, daughter of Chiranjeevi, launched a crime-based Web series on it a week ago. This is despite her uncle, Aravind, running a digital platform. “We are very happy to be associated with Sushmita and she naturally brings in a brand value.
We are also thankful to other talented makers such as Anish Kuruvilla and Bangarraju, along with newcomers. Our strength lies in out-of-the-box content and we will stay ahead. We are also airing the most popular family show Amrutham to get closer to Telugu hearts,” Aparna adds.
Quality over cash
However, a person from another digital platform, on condition of anonymity, tells us that while Telugu producers with deep pockets can make `100 crore movies they cannot deliver successful Web content with similar ease.
“Web content is a different ball game, so Telugu filmmakers have to change their mind-set first. They should realise that catering to niche — urban and educated viewers who abhor clichéd fare — is a new challenge; just having tonnes of money is not enough. Filmmakers caught up in masala potboilers and action adventures will face difficulties in the digital arena,” he warns.
However, Viren Thambidorai, Creative Head, South India, Viu digital platform, is a little more hopeful, saying there is space for everyone in the emerging Telugu digital world. “Actually, there is a demand for 1,000 hours of Telugu content in a year, but we are churning out only 300 hours, so more players can join in,” he explains.
Noting that thanks to the lockdown, viewers, who are used to watching free content on YouTube, have begun slowly understanding the subscription module, Viren shares his optimism about the future. “With viewers realising that the digital platform is the new theatre, things are only going to look better in the days to come,” he concludes.