After cinema halls, mobile theatre industry in Assam under threat from OTT platforms

Bajali: Mobile theatres in Assam have historically been one of the most enjoyed forms of entertainment. What made them unique is that the theatre groups travelled to places with their cast, crew, musicians, dancers and everything required to set the stage.

Mobile theatres have also been socially, culturally, and traditionally deep-rooted in Assam, attracting audiences in droves to watch popular shows such as Bhogjora, Black Money, and many more in the past. Gathering to watch these shows also meant socialising and exchanging news and gossip.

Unfortunately, this once-flourishing industry unique to Assam is now facing a new challenge in the form of OTT (over-the-top) platforms. Web series, films and documentaries have diverted audiences from the traditional Bhryamyman, thanks to the innumerable OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Zee5, Disney+Hotstar, SonyLiv and Voot. 

Also Read | Assam: Pathsala’s great mobile theatre culture on last legs due to COVID-19

“Earlier, people from various parts of Assam would come here to watch live dramas by the mobile theatre in Pathsala. Times have changed. Digitalisation has changed everything. The young generation doesn’t want to enjoy mobile theatre dramas anymore. Instead of buying a ticket priced at Rs 100-200, they buy monthly OTT service and net packs,” Bijan Bayan, a resident of Pathsala said.

According to a report by SBI Research (a division of MarketResearch.com), the OTT market is expected to reach Rs 11,944 crore by 2023, up from Rs 2,590 crore in 2018. The report published in August 2022 projected an annual growth of 36 per cent. 

OTT has already chipped away 7-9 percent of the entertainment industry share and revenue and is consistently growing with over 40-odd players and offering original media content in all languages, the report stated.

India’s entertainment and media (E&M) industry is expected to reach Rs 4,30,401 crore by 2026 at an 8.8 percent CAGR, according to a report published on June 23, 2022.

The PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2022-2026 report has shown substantial growth across India’s E&M industry segments such as OTT video, newspaper, advertisements, online games, cinema, and music, among others.

The remarkable adoption of OTT media can be attributed to several causes including the convenience, accessibility, and affordability it brings to a wide range of users.

Despite the looming threat of OTTs to the traditional mobile theatre, there are some who believe that traditional art form have nothing to worry about. 

“OTT platforms cannot possibly replace the mobile theatre industry. No digital technology can change the feel of live dramas on stage,” said Tapan Lahkar, producer of Kohinoor Theatre. 

Also Read | Will COVID-19 sound the death knell for Assam’s unique mobile theatre groups?

Assam’s first mobile theatre named Bhryamyman was staged on October 2 in 1963 in Pathsala town of Bajali district. 

“Theatre offers a larger-than-life experience. This cannot be replaced by television or OTT platforms. Going to theatre adds an important dimension – it becomes a social occasion and a collective experience. OTT platforms do not match up to that,” Lahkar added. 

The rise of OTT media has, beyond doubt, caused a significant shift in the entertainment industry towards digitisation and economy as consumers in India seek differentiation and value-based offering in their media consumption. Anyone with a smartphone, laptop or Smart TV and an internet connection can watch any content, movies or series from anywhere in the world. Further, the ability to stream content directly over the internet has increased with the rise in the number of internet connections, better network connectivity, technological innovations, and the availability of smart devices.

With such convenience, accessibility, and affordable streaming to a wide range of users, the future of Assam’s unique mobile theatre remains to be seen. 

Also read | How Boroxun’s Maitri Das navigates life as a theatre artist in Assam


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