The rise of OTT has been a long time coming now. It began with actors praising the platforms for giving them exposure that big production houses would never have given. Then, it continued with directors speaking about how OTT helps them craft a story better because of lack of censorship, bigger budgets and the long-form story format that helps them flesh out their stories and characters. At the very beginning of the OTT revolution in India, there was only one big Bollywood actor who seemed to understand its magnitude – Saif Ali Khan. With his western sensibilities and indifference towards the Bollywood ecosystem, Khan went ahead and did Sacred Games which was the first Hindi web series to garner national acclaim. Then came Netflix’s Radhika Apte obsession and it thrust this brilliant actress into the limelight, allowing her to garner international praise for her performances. Soon, Apte was a household name. Today, OTT platforms in India have re-launched acting greats like Shefali Shah, Pankaj Tripathi, Manoj Bajpayee and Jaideep Ahlawat. OTT gave Pratik Gandhi and Shreya Dhanwanthary a national platform to air out their immense talent.
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But what OTT has truly done is break the big star and big cinema myth. No longer is the national conscience dominated by a YRF or a Dharma Productions.
“That’s what you’re seeing in Indian cinema – the freedom of streaming services is allowing people to have larger thoughts than the formula that existed before. That there should be five songs, a fight sequence. That formula has gone away. Now people want to tell great, real stories, with which they identify,” international superstar and Bollywood’s face in the West, Priyanka Chopra told reporters in June this year.
“It’s amazing because it gives new writers, actors, filmmakers an opportunity to come into an industry that was monopolized for a long time by a very specific number of people. It’s a great time for growth, entertainment, and specifically for Indian cinema. The freedom that streaming has provided to audiences around the world is that you can watch a movie at the comfort of your homes. That’s amazing. It’s spreading culture, teaching people, educating them, there’s a large, new audience that is being exposed to all kinds of Indian cinema,” she added.
Bollywood and other Indian film industries have been traditionally dominated by the big production banners, a couple of musicians, around five to six big stars and a couple of directors who’ve managed to actually do something with the obstacles they’ve had to face. OTT gives everyone a fair shot at success – no longer can aspiring actors complain that they aren’t being given a shot at stardom. If they perform well in OTT shows and films, they’re bound to be noticed and appreciated. And this appreciation doesn’t just end up in critics’ halls but also on social media where the stars gain millions of followers immediately.
“I celebrate that there’s so much different content out there that people can access. No one genre rules, as a variety of content is consumed. The genres of Paatal Lok, Made In Heaven, Mirzapur, Out of Love, Delhi Crime, Panchayat are all different and told differently and there’s audience for all. I’m encouraged by that there is no formula yet. Aisa nahin hai ke only one thing can be successful but many concepts can co-exist,” Rasika Dugal told Hindustan Times in an interview.
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And what do filmmakers have to say about OTT? “What I really like about OTT, is the freedom to tell many kinds of stories and therefore many kinds of actors get a place to express themselves. But other than OTT platforms there’s Youtube and Instagram, too, where one can put any kind of content. The online world welcomes creators and artists and the sky is the limit and what it has provided to the entertainment industry is phenomenal,” Namit Das tells the leading daily.
However, there are actors who have voiced concern that OTT may also become formulaic like its cinema counterpart. With the success of shows like Mirzapur and Paatal Lok, writers are more than keen to write a violent, dark movie laden with expletives and nudity. In fact, when Manoj Bajpayee had spoken an expletive in The Family Man 2 by mistake, he was horrified. He knew the minute he said it that this would make it to the final cut and it actually did, despite his concerns.
“Even if a writer pushes for them, one has to understand the need for it in the story. Excess of anything isn’t beneficial for anyone,” says Pankaj Tripathi to HT about any “sansani” storyline.
But for now, everyone agrees that OTT is the future. Mainstream actors like Shahid Kapoor are making their digital debuts – a phenomenon that would never have taken place even five years ago.
“It’s the wave of the future. While it would be nice to see something on the big screen, I’m not going to fight technology. I’m more concerned about making what I want to make, and being true to my product than I am about where it is going to be shown. Sure I’d love if it goes theatrical but if that means I have to compromise on my craft and creativity, then I’d rather go to an OTT platform. So it’s a bit of a give and take I suppose,” says Abhay Deol to IANS.
“OTT platforms are a limited space for content, not at the mercy of physical multiplexes and single screen cinemas that usually get taken over by bigger movies, bigger studio films and producers that don’t allow space for newer ideas and talent to be exhibited. While the OTT platforms have to make popular cinema as they should, they have the ability to cater to those who want something outside of the popular and the mainstream. Only they can do that. Bollywood producers can’t do that. They don’t have the money or even the talent to do that,” he adds.