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With just two movies a day, MUBI is trying not to overwhelm Indian cinephiles

REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade
Cinephiles ahoy.
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur

Culture and lifestyle reporter

India is a poster child for internet adoption, and over-the-top (OTT) platforms are banking on that.

There was a time when a couple of large platforms enjoyed a near-monopoly over the Indian OTT market. But now, as the number of internet users have increased, so have these content offerings. The latest international player to join this universe is MUBI, a London-based curated streaming service founded in 2007.

With an India-specific channel and subscription plan, MUBI’s launch on Nov. 16, could possibly herald a change in viewing habits among OTT viewers in the country. Unlike Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, EROS Now, and Hotstar that offer an ever-increasing collection of films and TV series, MUBI handpicks films and puts up one recommendation a day. “We make our films available on MUBI in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or frustrate people,” Efe Cakarel, founder and CEO of MUBI, told Quartz India.

Other than the curated list of films, the genre of films available on MUBI also sets it apart from other OTT platforms. The films on the platform are generally arthouse cinema, documentaries, or short films, that are guided by the local culture of the country that cinema represents. Rarely do mainstream feature films, especially in terms of the most direct understanding of Bollywood, appear on the list of MUBI’s curation. The only exception in the Indian context is perhaps Andaz Apna Apna, which is a cult unto itself.

In a unique partnership with PVR Cinemas, MUBI also announced the MUBI GO programme on Nov. 27. Under this, MUBI subscribers will be able to redeem one ticket for a “film of the week” at any PVR hall that is screening it. This could be an interesting game-changer, especially in terms of bringing more audiences to watch films that often go unnoticed. MUBI is currently available for Rs199 for the first three months, and Rs499 per month subsequently.

In an interview with Quartz, Cakarel talks about the competitive OTT market in India, working with Indian filmmakers, and how MUBI plans to ensure people don’t get bored with its platform. Edited excerpts:

Are you worried that MUBI is entering India at a time when there are various homegrown and international OTT players crowding the market?

Our model and approach are very different from other SVoD (subscription video on demand) services, and we don’t see MUBI as having to directly compete with other streaming apps. We know, through research, that many people will subscribe to more than one SVoD service, so consumers in India could subscribe to both Netflix and MUBI.

We are focused first and foremost on human curation, and we have built a service that concentrates on the highest quality and attention to detail, that will speak to anyone with a genuine love for great films.

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. But in India, following the launch of MUBI India and MUBI World, we now offer two new films a day.

MUBI
Efe Cakarel

Another key differentiator for us is MUBI GO, a partnership with PVR Cinemas that we announced last month. No other streaming service has partnered with a cinema chain like this in India before, and the response since we announced has been really positive.

A lot of OTT players are going the “originals” way. Will MUBI ever go beyond curation to creating its own content in India?

Yes, definitely, and we can’t wait to start producing in India. Our production team is already reviewing treatments and scripts from Indian filmmakers. We’re currently producing in the US and Europe—we have Port Authority, which debuted at Cannes this year in the Un Certain Regard section, Rachel Lang’s Mon Legionnaire, and the recently announced TV series, Maniac Cop, from Nicolas Winding Refn. There are more projects that we are involved in, which we will be able to talk more about next year. 

What brought you to India, and what went behind putting together MUBI’s offering here?

Towards the end of 2017, the global investment firm Times Bridge approached us as they had spotted a huge potential in MUBI, seeing us as a company that has a unique and successful business model, and over 10 years of proven appeal amongst our subscribers.

India was MUBI’s third-largest market in terms of traffic and registered users at the point we started speaking with Times Bridge, but our long-term plan was to grow even further in India and develop a bespoke MUBI experience that would appeal to subscribers there. And to engage this audience we really needed to understand them and the media landscape, meet film producers, partner with local festivals, and much more to succeed there.

We agreed that Times Bridge was an ideal partner to do this with and in January 2018 officially announced the partnership. This year we’ve expanded the local team in Mumbai and built partnerships with some of India’s leading distributors including PVR Pictures, Ultra, Shemaroo, FilmKaravan, and NFDC. All of which has helped us with content to curate our newly launched MUBI India and MUBI World channels. 

How did you zero in on filmmaker Guneet Monga for curating the India channel? What does she bring to the table?

Guneet was introduced to MUBI through Times Bridge. She had been a fan of MUBI for a long time and understood our origins well, so we started discussing how she could support our plans for India. 

Guneet’s energy, knowledge, and passion for film is the exact premise that MUBI was founded on and we’re very honoured to work with her given her accomplishments in the industry and the vast network of people she has collaborated with. 

Indian films in the arthouse genre rarely do well commercially. Do you feel there’s an audience in India for such cinema?

There is and we speak to them every day. It has become even clearer over the past few weeks that people want to watch more Indian cinema, particularly independent films, and they are delighted with the introduction of MUBI INDIA and the films we have selected. Nazar, Ganashastru, Agantuk, and Kamla Ki Maut are proving very popular right now. We’ve seen worldwide demand for MUBI India, too, so we are currently looking at how we can hero Indian cinema in other markets. 

The other peril of having just critically acclaimed films is keeping people interested. How do you plan to retain your user’s attention through filmmaking that is not typically “escapist” or meant to be “chilled” with?

MUBI is for people that want to see beautiful, interesting and incredible films that they may not be able to find anywhere else or may not have even heard of before. 

We don’t only support and pick films that have been critically acclaimed either, we select documentaries, shorts and feature films, alongside the world-renowned titles we feel are brilliant films that need to be watched. It’s difficult to say which films people watch to relax with as everyone is different but the perception that every film on MUBI is “challenging” isn’t the case. Some days we may have The Breakfast Club as the film of the day, other days the selection could be harder hitting like M, or Bix Travesty, which is on MUBI World now. 

We realise that not every person will enjoy every film we select, but we like that we’re introducing new films to people every day that they may not have ever discovered if it wasn’t for MUBI. 

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