The potential of a Telugu-only OTT platform in a still-nascent digital market in the country didn’t enthuse many business leaders in 2019. Yet, one leader could foresee what many couldn’t. Allu Aravind, after witnessing several highs and lows in film production and distribution business for nearly five decades, was optimistic that film-crazy Telugu audiences wouldn’t mind a digital platform catering to viewers of a single language. Come February 2020, the veteran producer’s brainchild Aha had debuted in the OTT space, facing a daunting prospect of attracting a viewer-base that was increasingly swayed by giants like Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Shows like Kotha Poradu and Mastis exuded promise in the initial month and then COVID-19 happened. There came the biggest challenge for the platform – content creation. The shoot of a handful of shows was stopped midway. In terms of an audience, the numbers were extremely promising, but what would keep them on the platform? The release of their first web original, Run and another show, Locked featuring Satyadev Kancharana, did help their cause. OTT releases of Arjun Suravaram and Khaidi only enhanced their growth a step further.
A masterstroke at a time when Amazon Prime, Netflix and other platforms were busy announcing one direct-to-OTT release after the other was Aha’s decisions to dub several promising/critically acclaimed films from Malayalam and Tamil into Telugu. Aha turned out to be a boon for small-budget films which hoped for direct OTT releases – Colour Photo, Amaram Akhilam Prema, Johar, Buchinaidu Kandriga being a few films that benefited out of the move. The success of Colour Photo was a huge boost for the platform. Aha also took the risk of shooting a few originals like Metro Kathalu, Anaganaga O Athidi and Addham when the pandemic was far from over. They even teamed with Annapurna College of Film and Media to release a slew of short films made by aspirant filmmakers from the institute.
The platform came up with one but not two talk shows with Suma and Samantha – All is Well and Sam Jam. Suma’s chirpy presence brought in several family crowds to watch the show that celebrated the contributions of COVID warriors besides featuring brief celebrity interviews. Samantha’s star value gave another good push to Aha, the guest lineup comprising Vijay Deverakonda, Chiranjeevi, Allu Arjun, Tamannaah, Rakul Preet and Naga Chaitanya made for entertaining episodes. The release of a hit film like Krack on OTT within four weeks, the success of another web original Mail, did enough to sustain its momentum.
Aha, besides the highs, received considerable criticism for the content of their originals. Besides, not all were in favour of their decision to release dubbed films. Yet, their tremendous growth rate has been a surprise for many but it’s fair to say the COVID-19 scenario aided them considerably. Several Telugu-only OTT platforms like Friday Movies, FILIM, UrvasiOTT have debuted in the market over the previous months, but, as of now, they are only playing the catch-up game with Aha. Tamannah, Sarath Kumar, Harish Shankar, Praveen Sattaru, Venu Udugula and Surender Reddy are among names associated with their upcoming content, which tells that the coming months could be all the more promising for the platform.