Director, actor and entrepreneur Anurag Kashyap (Gangs Of Wasseypur) told the Reality Check: Originality conference at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) this weekend how he set up blockchain-powered VOD platform myNK, which aims to bring global arthouse titles to Indian audiences.
Kashyap was speaking on a panel on Reaching Audiences in New Ways moderated by producer Lorna Tee, and was joined by Gavin Humphries, managing editor of global online arts and culture video platform, Nowness.
In 2007, Kashyap had directed Black Friday, a film about the 1993 Bombay bombings that was screened at the Locarno Festival but banned by the Indian censor board. He realised there were many non-Bollywood films that no one would release in the country. He had funded and produced work from new filmmakers, including Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, which had screened in Cannes, Venice and elsewhere, but “our biggest problem was that when we went home, if a movie did not break out in the festivals, it was very hard to find distribution (in India).”
The Lunchbox had been a hit globally. “It made a lot of money worldwide but we didn’t see much of it. Every country has a distribution system but there are lots of these gaps and black holes that you can’t figure out,” he remembered. “You wanted to figure out every country, audit the accounts (but) you don’t know how things go on.”
Kashyap had gone to “a very high-end public school” and many of his old classmates were prominent in business and politics. “My classmates were sitting together. They wanted to understand the movie business. I would always say to them, do not invest in it because you won’t make it back.” One of the friends was a blockchain pioneer. Kashyap realised the blockchain technology could help him solve the Indian distribution conundrum.
“It can help you. It can bring transparency. Lots of things we face as filmmakers, blockchain solves those problems. The platform is so transparent that you can find out is watching the film and where.”
The director realised that myNK could let him know precisely where the audience was and what it was watching. “But how do you fight with Netflix - how do you survive in an environment with Netflix, Amazon and all these platforms that have a lot of money?” Kashyap asked himself. As a filmmaker, he worked closely with Netflix (who backed his series Sacred Games, India’s first original Netflix series) and didn’t want to compete with them.
However, Kashyap realised the immense appetite for filmgoing in a country with a 1.3 billion population wasn’t being properly served. Large sections of the population still couldn’t get to cinemas and indie cinema wasn’t being shown anyway. There was an opportunity for myNK to get “into a space that nobody was getting into” and the platform could “bring the world of independent international cinema and give it to the audience.”
India’s first “micro-distribution enabled, community-driven entertainment platform,” as it styles itself, was launched in 2019 through India and Singapore-based MinersInc. Among the content partners are international companies including Fortissimo Films, Denmark’s LevelK and Seattle-based Heyou Media.
The aim of the service was to “fill the gaps” where film distribution in India didn’t reach. “We’ve had people coming into the platform from over 150 cities in the country and largely India is looked at as a 36 city cinema market,” Kasha’s partner, MinersINC co-founder Deepak Jayaram told the conference. 40% of the films that have been watched on the platform have been documentaries. There are currently 200 films on the platform, which has been growing rapidly. The platform allows users to not only have the chance to watch the films themselves but “sell tickets to others and make money off it so you’re part of the entertainment economy,” Jayaram said.
“If you buy the movie, you can become a sub-distributor. You can distribute the movie and make money off it,” Kashyap added of a system that blurs the lines between sellers and consumers. He didn’t give full details of how the system worked but the Rotterdam audience was intrigued: after all, the very idea of the audience being able to recoup its investment turns conventional releasing models on its head.