Bollywood superstar Salman Khan announced last week that his next production, Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai will release in theatres in May rather than on OTT platforms, following requests from struggling exhibitors from across the country, who believe a mass entertainer will help pull audiences back to theatres.
While theatres have floundered, 2020 has been the year of OTT platforms. A PwC report states that the sector in India has witnessed a 30 per cent rise in the number of paid subscribers, from 22.2 million to 31 million, between March and October last year.
The popularity of OTT has completely transformed not just the way we consume content, but also what we consume.
Some of the finest productions that have garnered appreciation and audiences over the last ten months — Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men (Netflix), Anurag Basu’s dark comedy Ludo (Netflix), Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Gulabo Sitabo (Amazon Prime Video), Anushka Sharma’s Bulbbul (Netflix) and the recently released Tribhanga — Tedhi Medhi Crazy (Netflix) — would have found niche audiences in small theatres or gone unnoticed. On OTT platforms, they trended as top watches in India.
Then there are the series. Unlike Indian television shows, which have become platforms for regressive, and often ridiculous content, OTT platforms have spelt success for offbeat offerings. India’s first Emmy-award winning series Delhi Crime (Netflix), Pankaj Tripathi-starrer Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors (Disney+Hotstar), Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy (Netflix), Scam 1992 (SonyLiv), and Sushmita Sen’s Aarya (Disney+Hotstar) have brought back the golden days of Indian television in the 1980s and 90s when talent ruled.
“The entertainment industry is far ahead of the curve. OTT platforms allow actors, singers, film-makers and other entertainers to showcase their talent while bypassing the traditional gatekeepers,” says film-maker Vikramaditya Motwane. “The shift to digital consumption is likely to be fuelled to an even faster acceleration after the launch of 5G networks. The next era belongs to the digital world.”
In India, global platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are in a turf war with home-grown OTT platforms such as ZEE5, Eros Now, Voot, SonyLIV and JioCinema. Insiders tell us that Netflix ended the year with over two million subscribers in the last quarter alone, partly fuelled by the social restrictions.
About 80 per cent of our members in India chose to watch a film every week in 2020.
Monika Shergill, Vice-President — Content, Netflix India, believes their sharp focus on extraordinary stories has helped them consolidate their position. “About 80 per cent of our members in India chose to watch a film every week in 2020. Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Raat Akeli Hai was the most popular thriller of the year, while Malang and The Old Guard, and Anurag Basu’s Ludo stood out in the action and comedy genres respectively.” What cemented Netflix’s march into India was an Emmy Awards for Delhi Crime — the first Indian series to win this prestigious award.
Amazon Prime is fast catching up with Netflix, with over 10 million users, of which only 40 per cent pay for membership. The rest are bundled in with other subscriptions. “India is a land of storytellers. For a very long time, because of the formulaic nature of cinema and television, there was no representation of all kinds of stories,” says Aparna Purohit, Head of original content at Amazon Prime India.
“Streaming has democratised that. Stories that were not picked up earlier, subjects that were ignored or avoided, now there is a space for them.”
Resurgence in Indian entertainment
What does the future hold for cinema? There are no easy answers to this question. The reopening of theatres has been underwhelming. However, film-makers, even those who have done well on OTT platforms, contend that you cannot write off theatres. Film producer Sameer Nair, who heads Applause Entertainment and has produced successful shows such as Rasbhari, Hostages and Criminal Justice on OTT, says, it is a matter of time before audiences return to movie theatres.
“The slow return to theatres was expected. There is a fear of the virus still lurking around. But I don’t read too much in the initial numbers. Over the next few months, I expect people to go back to their movie-going ways. Theatres should focus only on brand-new blockbusters.”
Human beings are social by nature and watching a movie in a theatre is a form of social activity. However, it is not easy to dismiss OTT platforms as a temporary phenomenon. I believe the mediums will co-exist.
Theatres and OTT platforms will co-exist, says film-maker Sujoy Ghosh. “I have grown up watching cinema on the big screen. I would love to go back to the theatre. Human beings are social by nature and watching a movie in a theatre is a form of social activity. However, it is not easy to dismiss OTT platforms as a temporary phenomenon. I believe the mediums will co-exist.”
Blockbuster films will incentivise consumers to come and watch a movie. But we will need to continue with the safety measures for a long time.
Film-maker Karan Johar, whose production company has a strong presence on OTT platforms, says that the two mediums will complement each other. “OTT is a writer’s medium and that empowerment will help writers create better cinema. I believe that the next decade will see a resurgence in Indian entertainment. Most importantly, cinemas are going nowhere as they are the place where we experience large-scale films. They will never die.”
Cinemas, however, will have to evolve. Audiences will continue to expect a higher degree of health and safety measures. “Blockbuster films will incentivise consumers to come and watch a movie. But we will need to continue with the safety measures for a long time,” says Ajay Bijli, owner of PVR cinemas.
“Technology has changed, comfort levels have changed, the F&B consumption pattern has changed and how we make movies has also changed. But the concept of watching a movie is pretty much still the same. We have been through many disruptions but have always bounced back. We will brave this as well,” he asserts. ●
Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai
Salman Khan will release his home production, Radhe, based on a popular character he essayed in Boney Kapoor’s Wanted. The Prabhudeva-directorial pairs the superstar with Disha Patani.
Lal Singh Chaddha
Another member of the Khan triumvirate, Aamir Khan, stars in an official adaptation of the Hollywood mega-hit Forrest Gump. Co-starring Kareena Kapoor, it will see a release at the end of the year.
Akshay Kumar has delivered consistently at the box office.
Set in the 1980s, it is based on true events.
The sports drama, starring another box office favourite Ranveer Singh, is directed by Kabir Khan and based on the stunning cricket World Cup win in 1983. Singh stars as Kapil Dev, the then captain of the cricket team.