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Bollywood extended its story bandwidth like never before powered by the interactivity and intimacy of digital platforms

Entertainment is serious business in Bollywood and that is perhaps one of the reasons why it gets real about it faster than dipstick surveys. This year didn’t set out to be a breakthrough one but as it turned out, the film industry realised the worth of smart budgeting, stories that are true to life, content with an endearing bandwidth, heroes who could be human and flawed and women who could shoulder the burden of a Rs 100-crore revenue graph quite effortlessly. Also the star persona changed offscreen as A-listers  embraced normal patterns of life, coming out of their shells as it were, choosing to marry, have babies, go on vacations while being on top of their game, normalising family life and not letting it be a career deterrent as it once was, particularly for women. This levelling exercise has got to be credited in part to the digital streaming platforms that have consumers eating out of their palmtops, literally. In the quest for snackable content and a wider catchment area, Amazon and Netflix have indigenised shows and made them a personal talking point for every individual equipped with the internet at the local, neighbourhood level. So it is that the real India has found an echo in everyday life that includes the underbelly, the marginalised, the queer, the misfit, the conflicted and the grey. Be it Ganesh Gaitonde of Sacred Games or Akhanand Tripathi of Mirzapur, both dons brought us up close to the putrescence of a system that bred them, the anatomy of a contemporary socio-political milieu that doesn’t talk down from the urbane perspective of arthouse but a felt rawness of the ground below. In such a situation, even a lawkeeper like Sartaj Singh sways on the edge of right and wrong. This “life or something like it” mantra online is the reason why we have had films on loveable rogues (Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety) geriatric pregnancy (Badhaai Ho) and the piercing subtlety of urban crimes (Andhadhun). Meanwhile, the women — be it the principled queen (Padmaavat), a Kashmiri spy (Raazi) who prizes nationalism over emotions for her equally nationalist enemy, a woman ghost who would abduct abusive men (Stree) or a teacher battling a speech disorder (Hichki) — showed that age, size, shape and looks did not matter as the mettle they were made of. All of these raked in big money at home and overseas too, shedding the pretty diaspora myth and proving Indians are totally comfortable in their skin, warts and all, and are not afraid to show their unabashed passion and fury, aspiration and ambition and most importantly engage with conflict and attempt a conversation with issues so long considered taboo, sex or terrorism. That a big commercial venture like Sanju did well has also got to do with the story about a flawed hero who had his comeuppance. Or as the year ends, Simbaa roars from the corrupt matrix he is born of and decides to turn it on itself. Bollywood has always made larger than life films for the masses but now the same masses do not want escapism but a stake in the truth of their everyday life with massy concerns, one that can be easily comic or tragic. Perhaps this is the reason why big ticket films, including the multi-starrer Thugs of HindostanRace 3 and Zero tanked horribly. This also dimmed the sheen of the trinity of Khans — Salman, Shahrukh and Aamir while Saif rescued himself online. The young brigade of Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkumar Rao, Vicky Kaushal and Ishan Khatter showed that they could handle both artistry and fame with equal elan and would surprise us with their non-conventional choices. Regional films were mainstreamed, either as adaptations or importing their stars post the pan-India success of a Bahubali. Much experimentation is happening in the regional space and backed by big Bollywood funding, we could see a content storm brewing ahead of us. Thanks to digital flatness, the entertainment space has emerged as accommodating all kinds of “otherness.” And finally it was the year of Bollywood nuptials, complete with designer Sabyasachi and foreign exotica, that plumed up the big fat Indian wedding economy as an attractive option for  Westerners too. Be it the trans-continental coming together of cultures in the Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas wedding or the inter-community alliance of Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, these stars not only showed us how to celebrate but widened the possibility of couple branding as an allied revenue stream. Priyanka turned investor in a tech app while Deepika is running her mental health foundation, showing that diversification is the key to relevance. That pretty much sums up the mantra that Bollywood lived by. Read more posts… Saturday, 29 December 2018 | Pioneer

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