For a while now, many of us who are fans of Indian cinema have longed for a way to watch the films we love so much without having to buy every single film that comes out on DVD. Availablity of films for rent either by being sent a physical DVD or through streaming internet has been limited or minimal for many of us – from my own perspective, I have the option of signing up with either Zip or Netflix Canada; the former has a better selection of films, but is very weak on newer releases, and carries nothing in the way of regional cinema, and none of the content is available for streaming at this time. The latter offers streaming, but a small selection of Indian films. Sure, some content is available on line (there are films legitimately offered for viewing on YouTube, for example), but in general, there’s been a gap in the market with respect to legally available, good quality streaming with a good selection of films available.
So I’d been watching the launch of the Mela service, offered across a variety of platforms, with some interest. And when the Mela folks approached me to try out their brand spanking new iPad app, I couldn’t resist.
I had the good fortune to purchase a second-hand iPad a while back, and amongst the many things I love it for is the ability to watch films – usually I convert my legally purchased DVDs to a format that I can use on the iPad, because then I can take them with me wherever I go and watch as I please, instead of being tied to my DVD player and television. So I was really excited to discover that Mela was working on an iPad app.
Disclaimer: when Mela approached me, they offered me a year’s subscription to the service in exchange for my time spent exploring the app and writing about it (if I chose to). But they were clear in the email they sent that I was free to write up the app as I pleased, and was under no constraints to edit my thoughts.
Not that they would have any worries, because to be honest? After downloading the app last week and spending a little time exploring it, I can state that I really love this idea.
I like the layout. The interface is clean, organized and easy to move around in. I will admit that the search function could use a bit of tweaking – for the most part, it found things I was searching for, but occasionally it wouldn’t return a result for a film I knew was there, like Awara.
I like how when you’ve stopped a film partway through, it’s listed right at the top, with a button to allow you to resume watching (because you can start watching a film and stop partway through and come back to it later at the same spot you left off watching).
Films are available in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi, and Gujurati. Readers of Totally Filmi will understand my disappointment at there being no Malayalam language films, but Mela promises that they will be expanding their coverage of regional cinema, and, to be fair, I think for an app that’s just been introduced, the range of films available in the various languages is already impressive.
Films from a number of eras are represented, too, allowing the fan of older films an opportunity to revisit classics such as Aag, Awara or Bluffmaster (the Shammi Kapoor film) as well as explore more recent offerings such as Ishqiya, and Manorama Six Feet Under (aside: actor Abhay Deol has done a celebrity endorsement for Mela). And although personally I wasn’t interested in watching Ghost, the 2012 film released last week, Mela offered it for viewing the same day as the theatrical release. For those of us with limited or no access to Indian films in a cinema, the possibility of seeing new films as they are released is much appreciated, and fingers crossed that Mela can continue doing this.
I’ve only just started dipping into the films on Mela, but so far, I’ve been impressed with the image quality and the streaming.
The slight disappointment with Mela: at the moment, not all the films are subtitled. Mela is working on the subtitles, however. The plan is to begin with Bollywood films and then add them to the regional films. Newer films will come with subtitles (and there are some on the iPad app already, including the aforementioned Ghost), and Mela themselves will subtitle older catalog films, again, for all their platforms. The films on the Roku box platform should all be subtitled within 90 days, and although Mela would like to promise the same for the iPad, the device -- because it uses a different format for films -- will require Mela to re-do films/subtitles entirely so they will work on it. Mela is hoping to be able to provide subtitles for all films on the iPad within 90 days, too, and told me they'd let me know when they had a better estimate of the time frame it would require for iPad users to have access to subtitled content.
The Mela iPad app is available until the end of January 2012 as a free trial download (with a somewhat limited selection of what will be offered once the trial is over). After the trial ends, the service will be offered at a cost of $4.99 (US) a month, a fee that will be automatically deducted from your iTunes account. For me, that’s on par with what I’d pay for a service such as ZIP or Netflix Canada, with a much greater selection of films. I’m really keen to keep exploring the films Mela is offering for streaming on the iPad, and I’ll report here on the blog from time to time on changing availability of films, increased selelection of films, and on how the subtitling of films progresses.
And I might even write a review now and then of films I've watched via the Mela iPad app.