One of the most influential people in the backdoor operations of Indian entertainment business, Prabhat Choudhary is a sought after strategic consultant for Bollywood and South film industry. Founder of Spice Pr agency and Entropy digital, a key decision maker in the way films and OTT content are being marketed and promoted, especially in the post Covid times, he is touted as industry’s go-to man in times of crisis. A change manager and brand strategist, Prabhat has been helping stakeholders of the show business stay ahead of the curve.
Now, amidst the pandemic, he believes in adapting to the new normal and has devised new strategies to do so. We talk to him about the changing landscape of showbiz in the pandemic. Exceprts:
Being one of the most sought after strategic consultants for Bollywood and South stars, how do you see the post pandemic future of entertainment? What would be the new trends?
According to me, future is a work in progress. Most of us have never witnessed a pandemic, so it is difficult to gauge how things will shape in times to come. What seems to be certain is that we may not ever go back to where we were in the pre-Covid era. We won’t operate within those paradigms anymore. The future will focus on new fundamentals including new economics, new forms of marketing and creative and new challenges. Future seems hazy but the past is past. Chronologically, the pre-Covid era 2019 seems so recent but effectively it is so far. Our past practices will have to be altered if not completely discarded. Our challenges would be fresh and probably might be tougher than before. It won’t get easier. Anyway, change always has to be managed and I don’t mean that change means a crisis. If we managed and adapt well, change can be handled. In that change, those who won’t be able to adapt will perish. It will be survival of the fittest.
Do you think films like Sooryavanshi, Radhe & 83 among others have proved instrumental in rebuilding the theatre business? Will we see a revival of big screen viewing like before?
Today box office is a different algorithm. The big screen revival will take its time to gain momentum. Theatrical experience has redefined itself. It is about an event movie, a film that appeals to a huge audience and that is what the theatrical numbers seems to be saying as of now. What exhibitors can take heart from is that the audiences are open to going to theatres as the numbers are saying that. Look at Spider-Man: No Way Home performed so well. What’s amazing is that it penetrated into tier 3 and tier 4 towns and did amazingly well. A place like Samastipur in Bihar, which one might have to Google to find, the film did fantastic business there. People who are saying that theatrical entertainment is passé, I want to tell them it isn’t true. You need that movie to bring people into theatres. The whole number game, the parameters of success and failure vis-à-vis films are changing.
Talking about the number game in Bollywood, what according to you is going to be the new box office success barometer as compared to Rs.100 crore club?
It is too early to say anything about that as we have curtailed box office right now. Although, new data has emerged. Never would anyone have imagined that the Hindi dubbed version of a Telugu film, Pushpa: The Rise Hindi, would gross ₹90 crore as of today! That is phenomenal. It is a miracle of a different order. On what basis, can we say that there won’t be no 100 crore film. Today, it seems Bollywood has a challenge in front of it. We should take it positively as it is not an insurmountable challenge. Hollywood has been showing this penetration and so have movies from the South but perhaps it is more pronounced. Right now, with Spider-Man: No Way Home and Pushpa: The Rise, it has precipitated to a different level. Pushpa’s numbers are almost equal to Bahubali 1, and kudos to Pushpa for getting them in a pandemic. Allu Arjun seems to have a different kind of fan following, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana, where one wouldn’t expect fan following for an actor from the South. There is hysteria for him, which is quite telling and we should pay attention.
Do you think OTT has now taken preference over the movie business to a large extent in the pandemic?
It is a great time for content creators. You have so many options from long and short format, with new forms are emerging. As marketers, it is going great. The creative eco-system has been strengthened. Actors and writers are all finding work. It is a fertile environment right now. But if you see the picture from the lens of cinematic Bollywood, then yes, it better pull up it socks. Today, audiences have reference of Money Heist, Fauda and even Indian web series like Paatal Lok and Mirzpaur which have set the bar high. Audiences have so many options.
Do you think it’s an economically viable proposition for makers to release movies on OTT directly rather than taking it through the cinema route?
Everything is viable, given the readjustment in economics. If you ask, can Bollywood just survived on OTT, then that might not be the case. For an industry to survive theatrical is a must.
As they say, digital is the future. How have the promotional strategies, in terms of PR and marketing, changed in the Covid-era?
The future is not digital, the present is. It is already here! The bottom of the pyramid is more digital than the top. Digital has penetrated in every economic strata, especially in the lower income groups. They are most digitised as that’s what they have to fall back on. While digital has just taken over in promotions, communications and reaching out to the audiences. It is a great place to be in. There is a measurability of digital marketing and the reach is almost instant. You can change campaigns, if needed. As a marketer, going digital gives you an advantage as you have flexibility and feedback.