Lijo Jose Pellissery’s cinematic narration in VR

If maverick filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery’s bold and innovative gambit works, his fans will get to experience the chills and mysteries of the deep woods in his new film Churuli — but from the comforts of their homes.

With cinema theatres shut across the country owing to the pandemic, filmmakers by and large have sought refuge in OTT platforms or online film festivals. Lijo, however, feels that any form of monopoly would put the artiste at the mercy of businessmen, who merely explore the commercial side of cinema. He has been working on a concept since the lockdown: a nouveau screening option that, he believes, will change the cinematic experience for viewers at home. He hopes to achieve this by making a few alterations to a VR (Virtual Reality) headset.

Comfort watching

Asserting his belief on the importance of a wholesome theatrical experience, especially for a certain kind of cinema, Lijo brainstormed with his friends to see if they could come up with an alternative to theatre experience. What triggered him was the widespread reports that Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Tenet would have a direct-to-home release.

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s cinematic narration in VR

“I felt crushed. Tenet, perhaps the most awaited one this year, deserves more. Even prestigious film festivals have moved online. It is true that Jallikattu was also released on an OTT platform but Churuli demands a theatre experience to do justice to it. Since I am not a technical person, I read about high and low technologies that would theatre watching experience without compromising on the safety,” says Lijo Jose Pellissery, over phone from

In an emotional Facebook post a few weeks back, Lijo explained what he envisioned in the first place. “I thought of many options like online release, pop up tents and modular cinemas with a limit of 20 people. As social distancing is a need of the time, the movie going experience was no longer an option. And an online release would not do justice to the art,” he says, adding that a creator’s work would be lost in translation, in the digital medium.

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s cinematic narration in VR

After exploring several options and discussing with the best of creative heads such as AR Rahman and Anurag Kashyap, Lijo feels that it is the right time for what he calls it a “matchbox film experience”.

  • HD quality Dual Panels (1600×1080 or better for IMAX quality) with 90-120Hz refresh rate.
  • Around 70% angle of view.
  • Surround sound (Dolby AC-3) preferred or minimum stereo audio.
  • Two-three hours battery support for continuous playback.
  • Low weight/balanced construction to minimise wearer fatigue.
  • Phone pairing or direct OS support for streaming.
  • Media Processor with H264/h.265/VP9 decoding @5k 60/30Hz capability.

“The idea is to bridge the gap between the creator and viewer by introducing a matchbox cinema headset (a basic VR headset that can be fine-tuned to offer theatrical experience) into the equation We are not looking at a 360 degree or 180 degree experience. That is often the reason for discomfort. Why not think of a simple viewing, like how we watch in theatres?”

The downside, however, is that most viewers feel a sense of discomfort, wearing a VR device for more than 20 minutes. Moreover, the pricing was another main issue — it costs anywhere between ₹1,500 (basic models) and ₹25,000 (high-end models).

Immersive cinema

A new distribution system would also be necessary for such an initiative to take off. “In the early ‘80s, video rental libraries were a common sight in all cities. So, what if we rent out VR devices that facilitate theatrical experience? It is like buying a brand new headphones to enhance one’s aural experience.”

He says that he consulted veterans like of Jijo Appachen, who was sold with the idea and whose production house made My Dear Kuttychathan, the first 3-D film in India. Lijo has also written to leading film programmers and filmmakers, asking them to implement this technique to screen films.

Malayalam film director Lijo Jose Pellissery

“It would be like borrowing a book from a moving library. The user can keep the device for a certain number of hours or days and then it would be picked up, disinfected and be back in the library. Such a system would be a win-win situation for technicians and viewers,” he adds.

Lijo plans to release Churuli on a VR platform by partnering with companies like HTC, Sony and Oculus. “I am looking forward to partnering with like-minded people. If someone like Nolan releases his film in such a platform, the world would sit up and take note of it. Cinema is one of the biggest influencers today, and a matchbox cinema would only revolutionise the movie watching experience,” he concludes.

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