Founders of XL Cinema, Kunaal Prasad and Dipti Prasad, talk to Bhakti Mehta about their new application which smashes language barriers and also empowers the differently abled
What prompted you to develop this application, which blurs the language barrier?
Dipti Prasad (DP): Back in 2012, we were in Dubai, from where I moved to India eight years ago. We were going to watch an Avengers movie and I asked my dad to join us. But he was not keen, saying it was an English movie and he wouldn’t understand the accent.
I forced him to come along, and, during the movie, I kept explaining the film to him. Naturally, I was disturbing those around me. I also did not enjoy the movie and I had to go for the movie again. This set me thinking. Avengers was dubbed in Hindi but that version never released in Dubai. It only released in India as the mass market is here.
That’s when I thought that since the movie had been dubbed in Hindi anyway, why not make it available everywhere? They don’t have a large Hindi audience in Dubai, and dubbing the film in Arabic may make more sense. But that was a risk because how many Arabic-speaking people would turn up for the dubbed film? The cost of dubbing and releasing a movie theatrically is huge.
That’s where we thought we should do something about this. Three years ago, we gave up our jobs and focused 100 per cent on XL Cinema. We started developing the app and launched it with the Telugu movie Naa Peru Surya – Naa Illu India, last year.
This was our first movie which was in three languages – Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam. We had 42,000 downloads. After that, we became aware of the audio description part and that we could support them on our application. Then we did Sanju, AndhaDhun, Thackeray, Manikarnika and RAW.
This application also has a feature aimed at visually impaired people?
DP: When visually impaired or blind people go to theatres, they can obviously only hear the dialogue of the film. But there are moments in films where a scene has a visual element, whether a comical thing or the revelation of suspense. Usually, friends or family members of the visually impaired people help them out by describing the scene but that can disturb people around them.
Our app has an ‘audio description’ feature, which means the user can listen to the description of the scene, of, say, someone walking towards someone else, wearing a particular expression, along with the dialogue they hear on the screen. The app syncs the sound of the film and runs accordingly, ending just when the film ends. We wanted to empower these people to be able to enjoy films like everyone else does.
Kunaal Prasad (KP): When we took this app to people, many of them said that visually impaired or blind people don’t go to theatres or why would they even want to. But that’s not true at all!
What is the process for you to approach studios?
KP: We go to studios and demonstrate the app to them, talk to them about the advantages and try to convince them to sign up with us. That is how Zee Studios and Viacom18 came on board. We are still pursuing Fox Star Studios. We have realised that it is easier to get through to studios that are based in India.
DP: And if the decision-makers are outside India, it takes much longer. So we are a work-in-progress with NBC, Universal and Disney. We have demonstrated the app to them and they have appreciated it. They have started discussions with their LA offices.
And how did the production houses respond?
KP: It has been mostly positive. I mean, barely any production houses have turned us down. It is a win-win situation. And if there are films that have already been dubbed in different languages, it is easier for them. All they need to do is share the tracks. We do not even charge them for this. It makes their lives simple. Still, a few production houses are sceptical. For KGF, we tried to do it for all five languages. They are still thinking it over! This is the problem, technically. It has to click with one of the big movies. Once it does, others will line up. That is the challenge.
But Sanju was your biggest film.
KP: But it was only for the visually impaired aspect. Sanju didn’t happen for multiple languages, it happened for audio description. And it happened from Rajkumar Hirani’s office in the fourth week. In the second week, we got permission for the audio description and it was available on the app in the fourth week. But, by then, the movie started waning in theatres. So if you give this out in the beginning, in three languages, the buzz that is created cannot be matched with what happens in subsequent weeks.
Can you tell us more about how the app works?
KP: It is free to download and free to use, currently. You don’t have to pay anything in this whole cycle. All you need to do is order an audio ticket. We track whether or not the user is inside a theatre. If the user is not inside the theatre, we block it. So if the user is inside the theatre for AndhaDhun or Manikarnika, the app will sync. There is an audio ticket that is generated but it is completely free. With that ticket, you can hear the dialogue in the languages available. For example, you could go to a Tamil screening of 2.0 and hear the dialogue in Hindi.
We are bootstrapped but we are in the growth stage. So what we are looking at is growing a user base and then monetising it. That would be a second option. But initially what we are looking at is creating awareness about the app.
Are there any particular marketing strategies you are looking at to promote this?
KP: We are trying to raise investment. Second, we are focussing on digital marketing in the initial phase. We are looking at strategic partnerships with theatres. We cannot advertise on TV, so we are trying to get good movies on board. If we raise the investment, we can support with the dubbing track, releasing it exclusively on this app. We are talking to studios about that so that we can push it, saying that if you want to have it in a particular language, then you have to download this app. That opens up the whole channel.
What if the film is not dubbed originally? Will you dub it yourself to make it available for customers?
DP: At this point, we don’t offer in-house dubbing. But we want to do that and that is why we want to raise investment. We have started doing in-house audio description tracks. Sanju came to us in the fourth week, AndhaDhun in the third week. We realised that the process of making the track takes 7-10 days.
KP: And, here, studios take six weeks to make an audio description track. So it is out of question.
DP: And if it takes so long, by the time the track is ready, the movie is not in theatres. That is why we started doing in-house audio description tracks. And we want to dub in future. But we need to raise some investment first.
You said you have approached the I&B Ministry for their help with this. Have they responded?
KP: They have already put in a committee for people with disabilities PWD. Hopefully, things will move once the elections are over.
Have you also approached the Producers Guild of India?
KP: We have approached Kulmeet Makkar. He liked it and even sent emails to a lot of production houses about this. And Fox called up again.
No other technology gives both services - language choice and audio description - in the same app like our app does.
Any other films that you are working on for dubbing or audio description?
KP: We are in talks with Viacom18 and Eros to dub movies in Arabic and launch in the Middle East.