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Interview Bengali

Best possible version of Hoichoi on the way, says co-founder Vishnu Mohta

The Bengali-language streaming platform has announced a slew of 25 original web-series and two films for release in the coming months.

Vishnu Mohta (right) with Hoichoi co-founder Mahendra Soni

Roushni Sarkar

With streaming service Hoichoi marking its third birthday last week, co-founder Vishnu Mohta has credited partnerships with the best producers and talents in the industry for its emergence as Bengal's 'default OTT platform'.

In the past six months, with theatres shut on account of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country, the platform has grown manifold, acquiring a staggering 13 million subscribers around the globe.

Mohta, however, believes Hoichoi has maintained the balance of the Bengali film industry’s eco-system rather than dominated it. The platform has just announced a slew of 25 original web-series and two films for release in the coming months.

Speaking to Cinestaan.com, Mohta revealed how SVF Entertainment Pvt Ltd, which owns and runs the Hoichoi platform, triumphed over adversity and doubled revenue in the past year and discusses what lies ahead. Excerpts:

How has the journey been so far?

I think it has been a fabulous journey. It has been very rewarding from a professional perspective. I love how Hoichoi has emerged at the cross-section of technology and content — both things I love. I have seen it evolve over three years, especially in the last six months, when a lot of people were housebound and OTT platforms took new shape.

I am proud of how far we have come as a team. We realized after the lockdown that we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a huge leap in terms of content, partnerships and technology. That’s why we have been working for the past six months to ensure that we up the game in a big way in the fourth year. It is almost like a second version of our strategy.

How was planning carried out in terms of curating content in view of the lockdown?

We realized that because of the lockdown, the traceable audience for audio and video content as well as people willing to pay for content had grown manifold. The number of first-time users exploded.

The other advantage was a lot of writers and actors were available to do our shows. As not many films are being made currently, we were able to collaborate with the best talents in the industry for our shows. That’s why we have been able to put together a strong line-up.

We had to work hard to ensure that the website didn’t crash or the app didn’t fail and [that we] entertain audiences every day, and at the same time plan for the future in a big way. It has been an awesome six months. We have got a huge line-up from October to April-May [2021] and we will release a lot more shows than we usually do.

Are safety measures being implemented while shooting the new shows?

Yes, safety comes first. Some of the folks we have worked with for years are SVF’s extended family. As a mature company, we have to make sure safety is our priority. We maintain all protocols that you would expect, [following] guidelines that have come through from regulation perspectives as well as from various industry associations. We are working with fewer people [on the sets] than before.

While the country is facing an acute economic crisis and many sectors are suffering, digital content is thriving. What are your thoughts on this?

I believe things are returning to normal. I think we are just lucky that we have our own platform and that SVF has worked across all entertainment sectors. We were able to serve our customers while cinema halls were closed and no new content was being made for television.

However, television is coming back to normal and I hope the cinemas reopen soon. Some big movies that we have produced are ready for release. I think things are going to normalize faster than we realize. People are craving the experience of going to the cinema. I can only think of positives going forward. We are done with the hard part, I guess.

Do you think OTT platforms benefited from the closure of cinema halls? Do you believe digital platforms are the future of the entertainment industry?

See, I believe COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. It will reshape things and make them more optimal; only the fittest will survive. It will force us to look at our cost infrastructure. I believe crises come with opportunities. I think it is a great opportunity to clarify objectives and the things that are wasteful. The relevant sectors will become more important as they will be able to take these kinds of shocks for a long time. We have got a stronghold and I don’t think reopening or not opening cinemas will affect us in the long run.

On the other hand, I am totally in support of reopening cinemas. Schools and cinemas are the last things to open; even clubs have opened in Kolkata. Releasing films in a theatre actually makes films bigger, in my opinion. They can be released later on OTT platforms. People watch films on the big screen and then recommend them to others, which creates a buzz. If a film is released on an OTT platform, all the marketing happens on that platform only. Frankly, as SVF, we have said that in spite of having our own platform, we will release our films in theatres. We will wait for that.

What should audiences expect from Hoichoi in the next few months?

We want to present the best possible version of Hoichoi to the audience on all fronts. When people are paying, we too are making a promise of being the default OTT platform for Bengal, that too, globally. We are working on the technology, revamping our user interface, rewriting our applications and making updates. We have come up with the biggest line-up possible. We partnered with Jio recently as well as the biggest telecom companies of Bangladesh and West Asia. We have already had eight digital premieres. I feel OTT platforms have gone through the biggest transition ever during the lockdown.

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