In 2001, Sushanta Bhattacharya, a travel buff, got hooked onto a magazine aired on satellite television channel, Tara Bangla. He wouldn’t ever miss the programme Paaer tolai shorshey – an adage for the incorrigible traveler, which literally translates into ‘mustard seeds under the feet’. Until a new world opened up for him.
A friend showed him a Bengali language video called “Chaar dhaam”, which covered the four Himalayan Hindu pilgrimages of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Kailash and Mansarovar. And Bhattacharya was addicted to travel videos that reached out to him in his own lingo. He’d look for them at music retail stores and travel fairs, or source them from tour operators and even directly from production companies.
Today, Bhattacharya, a Durgapur-based engineer, has some 20 video CDs in his native Bengali that cover various locales in India. Many of these, produced by little known brand names such as Chacha Video and NITT, are crudely packaged with hand-written labels.
The demand for information on tourism has spawned not just travel videos but television programs as well, aired regularly by both the satellite and cable television channels.
“There is a dedicated viewership for these programmes, which is why they are surviving despite being aired late evening,” says Abhijit Dasgupta, who runs one of the biggest cable operations in Kolkata , Bangla Ekhon. While nobody is willing to guess the size of the market for travel videos, mostly priced between Rs100 and Rs150, their producers are encouraged by sales figures.
Tetris Worldcom Ltd, which brings out the Chalo Jaai (Let’s go) series of videos, has brought to the market a repertoire of about 50 travel offerings. The company sells 6,000 discs in a year, says managing director, Subhajyoti Basu. Another Kolkata-based player, Swarnakshar Prakasani Pvt. Ltd, which brings out a Bengali travel guide on India called Bhraman Sangi and monthly print magazine, Bhraman, has also had fair amount of success with its Bhraman series of travel videos. The company sells about 2,000 videos a year through various music and video retailers. But its biggest bet is the Calcutta Book Fair, where it vends another 2,500 CDs.
Interestingly, while most of the smaller players operate through travel agents or by participating in travel fairs, the two main players in the market, Chalo Jaai and Bhraman, follow distinctly different business models. Chalo Jaai videos are sold directly by Tetris from its office in central Kolkata. The company also organizes a travel fair a few months ahead of Durga Puja, when most Bengalis fan out in different directions indulging their travel bug.
The Bhraman series is available off the rack in most major music stores in the city. However, both bank heavily on their dedicated programmes on satellite slots to advertise their products. Chalo Jaai has a late evening slot on Akash Bangla, while Bhraman Kache Doorey (Travel Near and Far) runs on Zee Bangla.
Chalo Jaai also doubles up as a travel agent, offering tours of the places it airs or sells as videos. Tour plans are announced during television programmes, giving time schedules and costs. It also offers clients the opportunity of being featured in the Chalo Jaai travel magazine on television, with the tag line ‘Be a celebrity if you travel with us’. The Chalo Jaai team of 18 cameramen (on the payroll of the company) travels with client groups to different destinations. The company has its own post-production studio, where the anchoring and voiceovers are done and finishing touches are given.
Bhraman, on the other hand, is largely a one-man show. The company’s promoter, Amarendro Chakravorty, has written several travelogues and also brings out the print magazine. He generally travels alone to keep costs down and even piggybacks his way to various locales, capturing most of the places he visits on handycam. While the anchoring and voiceover for his videos are his own, the post-production is outsourced to studios.
While most Bengali travel videos focus on Indian destinations, Chalo Jaai and Bhraman have ventured out of the country as well. Chalo Jaai has covered Australia, Europe, Mauritius, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Bhraman’s big claim to fame is the film on the Antartica, which hit the market in 2005 and has sold 5,000 copies till date. The exploration of Alaska, the forest of Africa and Egypt are also a major draw.
Both players agree packaging pushes video sales. Chalo Jaai featured the beaches of India and promoted the Star Cruise service sailing along the west coast. Bhraman brought the folk dances from different part of the world to Bengali living rooms, and has taken viewers to the northern-most city in the world, Hammerfest, in Norway.
Chalo Jaai is very clear that its target audience is the middle-class Bengali. “We are not targeting people who would draw up their travel plans with SOTC or Thomas Cook,” says Basu. His business thrives on group tours and provides the ‘full package’ of offering information and service. Chakravorty is not sure all his audience is middle class, given that his video on Antartica was screened in Calcutta Club. The Bengali audience understands passion and my videos appeal to that side,” he says, insisting that his products score more on emotional factor than on packaging.
The players complain their business is being thwarted by piracy. “We tried selling through regular retail stores,” says Basu. But soon he found copied versions of his discs selling in the grey market at Rs20 (against his price of Rs 100 upwards). Bhraman’s business manager, Rumpa Banerjee too feels that sales figures could have been better but for piracy.
But, clearly the market for travel video is growing. Prabir Sinha Roy, who split from the ‘Chalo Jaai’ team, has been running a fairly successful show ‘Doorey Kothao’ (somewhere far) on Dasgupta’s cable channel Bangla Ekhon. With 716 episodes under his belt, he is now gearing to launch his own brand of travel videos.