Big news in the world of streaming video today: Amazon’s Heera Channel is dead. Along with the Anime Strike channel, Heera was abruptly shut down, with much of its content folded into the general Amazon Prime video catalog. Film critic Josh Hurtado posted a screenshot of the letter emailed to Heera subscribers:
The chief complaint cited in a Forbes article about Anime Strike and its closing could apply to Heera as well: fans felt punished by having to pay twice for content, in the form of both a Prime subscription and a separate Heera subscription. The double paywall felt even more punitive given that many of Heera’s movies were included free with Prime over the border in Canada, no extra subscription required.
Perhaps what doomed Heera and Anime Strike from the start was that they were products of Amazon’s own creation, unlike other Channels like HBO or DramaFever that exist outside of Amazon’s umbrella. Such channels can cultivate and maintain loyal fanbases through their own websites and social media efforts. Heera didn’t have a dedicated blog to promote what was new or coming soon, and its Twitter account has been inactive for months. I’m not sure how Amazon expected Heera or Anime Strike to prosper without internal help from the company.
As I mentioned above, many of the movies formerly on Heera are now available in the Prime catalog. Over the next week, I’ll be populating my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with the films that made the transition. In the meantime, the links on my Bollywood movies on Heera page are still accurate, so you can always click on a title to see if it’s available on Prime.
It’s no coincidence that Heera’s shuttering comes a week after Amazon added a new channel to its lineup: Eros Now. Subscribers can now access Eros Now for the standard monthly subscription fee of $7.99 using their Amazon accounts, without having to go through Eros directly. Some of the movies formerly on Heera that didn’t shift to Prime — such as Krrish 3 — are still available with an Eros Now subscription. Amazon offers a free 7-day trial of Eros Now if you want to try before you buy.
In March, 2017, Amazon added a new Indian movie channel to its American lineup of add-on subscriptions to Prime Video. The Heera channel boasts hundreds of titles in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu. Here’s my take on the service.
Foremost in the minds of many consumers when choosing a streaming provider is the strength of the service’s catalog. With nearly 400 titles in the Hindi collection alone, Heera has a lot to offer fans of Indian cinema. As of the time of this writing (October, 2017), Heera already carries twelve movies released theatrically in 2017. The service has a number of new stand-up comedy specials by Indian comedians, as well as the original TV series Inside Edge starring Richa Chadha and Vivek Oberoi. (Much of the content available with the additional Heera subscription in the States is available with a standard Amazon Prime subscription elsewhere in the world.)
Maybe even more important, Heera has what are arguably the two most desirable Bollywood films for repeat viewing: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Streaming services have been racing to sign contracts for access to the full catalogs of the most prominent Indian studios and production houses. Netflix has a deal with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, while Amazon/Heera have contracts with Yash Raj Films and Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment. Heera’s recent addition of several films starring or produced by Salman Khan point to a relationship between the star and the streaming service as well. (At the time of this writing, Netflix, Amazon/Heera, and iTunes are all vying for Eros International’s huge catalog.)
Another nice feature of Heera’s collection is a subset of movies produced by the National Film Development Corporation, an organization devoted to financing films of artistic merit that might otherwise struggle within the traditional studio format. Heera also has a number of older titles from the 1970s and earlier.
Heera’s deep, diverse catalog — I haven’t even touched on movies in other languages or Heera’s collection of animated children’s shows — appeals to a wide audience. A multi-generational household will find something for everyone in the family to enjoy, for less than the cost of a movie ticket.
That leads to another key determining factor for streaming subscriptions: price. If you live in one of the estimated 64% of US households that already subscribe to Amazon Prime, paying an additional $4.99 per month for Heera is a no-brainer. It’s cheaper than Netflix’s most basic one screen/standard definition plan for $7.99 per month, and you get access to an extensive collection of Hollywood and international movies available through the basic Prime membership, with includes dozens of Indian films.
Things get more complicated if you’re only subscribing to Heera for the movies and wouldn’t otherwise use Amazon Prime. You can save a little money with a year-long subscription to Prime for $99, bringing the per-month cost of a Heera subscription down to $13.24. (Amazon offers a 30-day free trail of Prime, if you’re unsure about a long-term commitment.) A strictly month-to-month plan costs $14.99 — $10 for Prime plus $4.99 for Heera. That’s three dollars more than the current cost of Netflix’s most expensive four-screens, Ultra-HD plan.
Of course, there are other aspects to consider when choosing a streaming service. One really cool feature available with Amazon/Heera is the ability to change the size and background color of subtitles. There are five text sizes available, as well as three color options: white text/no background, white text/translucent grey background, or yellow text/black background. You can preview a sample of what each style and size subtitles will look like, even if you adjust the settings in the middle of watching a movie. Keep in mind that some titles do not have English subtitles (including my beloved horror flick Khamoshiyan). Heera also allows you to download movies for later viewing, and the video quality is good on an iPad.
The biggest downside for Heera is that — as an Amazon subsidiary — its catalog shares the same abysmal organization that plagues the rest of Amazon’s video catalog. It’s not just that catalog is disorganized; some movies are impossible to find unless you specifically search for them by title. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge isn’t mentioned on any of the twenty-four pages of movies listed under the “Heera Bollywood Movies” section. I only knew to search for it by name because so many other Yash Raj films are available.
It’s also impossible to skip more than one page ahead through Heera’s desktop catalog (okay, you can jump from Page 1 to Page 3). With titles sorted by “Newest Available” — which gives the fullest possible iteration of the Bollywood catalog — it took me 1 minute 45 seconds to scroll all the way to the last title — and that’s on a new computer without stopping to actually read the titles. Woe unto you who forgets the name of a movie listed on Page 24 and has to look for it on a computer with an ancient operating system.
The Heera app available on my smart TV has a few lists — such as “Heera Popular Movies” or “Heera Comedy Specials” — that sort the movies available in that category in order of popularity. That means that you’ll have to scroll through 150 or so titles to find Fanaa under the “Heera Bollywood Movies” section, which only lists about half of the movies available in that category anyway. The “Heera Recently Added Movies” section is a couple of weeks out of date as well. Your best bet is to set aside some time to add the movies you want to see to your Watchlist using the full website. OR you could select movies from this handy list I made of all of the Hindi titles available on Heera. (Tips via PayPal are always appreciated.)
As of right now, Heera is my preferred Bollywood streaming service, over Netflix and Eros Now. The catalog is both current and deep, and the price point for Prime subscribers is hard to beat. Heera’s launch triggered a scramble among service providers, and Hotstar‘s recent foray into the American marketplace could mix things up once again. As great as Heera is, its reign as the best Bollywood streaming service could be brief if Amazon isn’t vigilant.
I further updated my Heera list with some titles that I only just discovered were available on the service, thanks to Amazon’s atrocious methods of labeling and categorizing movies. Those films are: Amal, Dil Chahta Hai (★★★★), Kshay, Lakshya, Ready (★★½), and Yuva (★★★★).
I also made a couple of recent updates to my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime. Admittedly, they aren’t “Bollywood” movies by the strict definition, but rather international productions about desis abroad that might appeal to Bollywood fans, including the American film Quarter Life Crisis (starring Maulik Pancholy and Lisa Ray) and the 2017 Italian movie Babylon Sisters, about an Indian family that opens a dance studio. The 2016 Malayalam film Girls is also now available for streaming.