Promoting independent cinema might not seem a viable business in a cultural climate that is heavily tilted towards commercial cinema. But just eight months into its founding, Reelmonk, which facilitates the online release of off-beat and independent films, has already tapped into a user base of above 20,000 within India and overseas. Late last year, with Jayaraj’s ‘Ottaal’ the company became the first in India to release a film online the same day of its theatrical release.
“Viewership in Kerala has this quality; there is an audience that appreciates off-beat films. But theatre owners are reluctant to screen independent cinema because the audience for such films is spread out, and very often not easy to get them into the theatres,” says Vivek Paul, co-founder of Reelmonk.
The economics graduate launched the website along with his childhood friend, Blaise M Crowly, who is an expert in cyber security and online encryption software, and with whom he shared his passion for the movies.
Reelmonk works this way - users register with the site, download the Reelmonk software and start downloading the films they want to watch. The downloaded files are played with the Reelmonk player, and added to the user’s library, where they can come back to it and watch it again.
Obviously, the biggest challenge in such a venture is staving off piracy, which can seriously dent profits. For this they have made use of encryption, and hidden trackers embedded within the file helps them catch pirates red-handed. Also, the files cannot be played on any other player besides the Reelmonk player. The films can be downloaded in 720p quality for Rs 180, and 1080p for Rs 300.
Reelmonk had a rocky start initially, when a copy of Rajeev Ravi’s ‘Njan Steve Lopez’, its first release, leaked and pirated copies began making the rounds. But they immediately took legal action, and encryption was strengthened to prevent such incidents in the future.
“Reelmonk was also done with the intention of reaching out to Keralites internationally, who often have to resort to piracy in order to catch the newest releases, especially in countries where Malayalam films are not released theatrically. Through our site, the Malayali diaspora can watch the latest offerings from the industry. It also gives producers an additional source of revenue after the initial theatrical run of their films. Profits are shared with the producer on a 70:30 basis.”
Online releases have proved to be beneficial for films like ‘Njan Steve Lopez’, which, after a disappointing theatrical run, gained a cult following after its online release.
It was the same with ‘Ottaal’ which had viewers even in Germany, as a result of its impressive performance.
As the Reelmonk team busies itself with the online release of Dr Biju’s ‘Valiyachirakulla Pakshikal’, and Siddharth Siva’s ‘101 Chodyangal’, Vivek shared future plans to expand into the Tamil and Telugu markets, as well as bringing back the old classics in high-definition formats.