“I feel proudest when they compare Minnal Murali to Mr.India”

“I wouldn’t sell the film to Netflix if we weren't making a profit. If I could hold on for two years, we could have waited even longer,” says the producer delighted with the global attention her film has been getting on the platform.
“I feel proudest when they compare Minnal Murali to Mr.India”

Edited excerpts from an interview of Sophia Paul, the producer of Minnal Murali and Bangalore Days before this, with Vishal Menon, a week after the success of the first Malayalam superhero movie.

Vishal: It was around four months ago that Netflix bought Minnal Murali. What motivated your decision to go the OTT route? Did you think the film would have fared even better if it was held back for a bigger theatrical release?

Sophia: We've been working on Minnal Murali for over two years now. Throughout the process, the circumstances were beyond our control. Covid-19 had no intention of backing down, the lockdown fell upon us and theatres remained closed. It was up to us to decide how much longer we wanted to keep this film on hold. We arrived at OTT after seeing the success of several other Malayalam films on streaming services. It also helped that we struck a great deal with Netflix. Around two months after we agreed to this partnership, theatres reopened but they could only function at fifty percent capacity.

With a film like Minnal Murali, we didn't want to open it to such a small viewership. We wanted entire families to be able to watch our film and an OTT release seemed most appropriate for this. When Netflix took up our film, it was elevated to a global platform. Our film has gotten both recognition and promotion beyond what any regular Malayalam film can expect. We wanted Minnal Murali to reach a worldwide audience and that is exactly what is happening right now. We couldn't be happier. Everyone gets to see the film at the same time. The OTT route has proven to be successful during a time when the audience can't risk a visit to the theatre due to the Omicron variant. People often ask me if I'm upset about our film not having a theatrical release. But I don't feel this way. Watching a film in the theatre comes with restrictions that have been avoided by an OTT release. We've got a massive response to our film mainly because we've released it on Netflix. 

Vishal: In November Kurup, released in theatres to a massive box office collection. And the general opinion is that films make three times the profit with a theatrical release than they would on an OTT platform. Did you reconsider Minnal Murali's OTT release after Kurup's theatrical success? 

Sophia: I was happy handing over our film to Netflix so it's unnecessary to consider other possibilities. It was lovely seeing the audience return to theatres with Kurup's release. While this was good news for the Malayalam film industry, it did not prompt me to reconsider Minnal Murali's OTT release. I was happy with our partnership with Netflix and we had begun promoting the film by then. Minnal Murali has received all the attention it desired and we're delighted with how things have panned out.

Vishal: Yours is a film with a sizable budget that was many years in the making. Did you land a fitting profit by selling the film to Netflix?

Sophia: Definitely. I wouldn't sell the film to Netflix if we weren't making a profit from the sale. I could always postpone it until we were ready for a theatrical release. If I can wait for two years, then I can most definitely wait longer. But this hasn't been the case. I sold the film to Netflix only because it was a good deal.

Vishal: In nearly all major towns and cities in Kerala I've found billboards featuring this film. There has been no dearth of promotion and marketing. Even people who only watch one odd film every year are curious about Minnal Murali. How does the marketing part work once a film has been sold to Netflix? Are they entirely behind this film's promotion?  

Sophia: Both promotion and marketing of the film was undertaken by Netflix. Of course, we too contributed to it by marketing the film on different social media platforms. Apart from that it's all Netflix. They did discuss their ideas with us and incorporated our suggestions as well. We're immensely satisfied with the work they've done in promoting Minnal Murali. It is above and beyond what films from our industry otherwise have access to. Once we hand over a film to a streaming platform like Netflix all additional costs are borne by them.

Vishal: Like you said, the marketing afforded to this film is more than we've ever seen before. Maybe due to it being a superhero film, but Netflix hasn't treated Minnal Murali like their other Malayalam releases. Two weeks before the film premiered they reduced the subscription prices in India also. Malayala Manorama featured beautiful promos for this film inspired by our comic book culture. The film was also dubbed and released in English and other regional languages. At what point do you think Netflix realised your film's potential?

Sophia: Netflix first saw the raw footage of our film. So I can safely say that they liked our content. We struck a deal only after they understood what the film was trying to convey. The biggest appreciation I've received from someone who watched the film is that Minnal Murali was the first film they liked since Mr. India. As the producer of this film, I felt the proudest hearing this. Through Netflix our film has reached a global audience. At every stage, their marketing team would share their ideas with us through Zoom Meetings and they've done a wonderful job promoting this film. We wouldn't be able to pull this off with a theatrical release. From promo videos with Yuvraj Singh and The Great Khali to front-page advertisements, Netflix has elevated our film to a whole different level.

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