OTT and the cinema experience

I recall there was a huge outcry when Kamal Hassan had announced his plans to release Vishwaroopam simultaneously on OTT and in theaters. This was in 2013.

Now, since 2020, theaters have done meagre business, if any, and most of the movie releases have been through OTT.

“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked” said Warren Buffet. No other statement could have been more apt to what happened to Bollywood since the pandemic started.

All those tall claims of 100 crores and record breaks have now come to naught. A Salman Khan film finds itself in the same boat as a Fahadh Fasil movie, and am sure that the latter is much more widely watched.

Coolie No. 1 was far from numero uno, Radhe was the most unwanted bhai, Laxmi Bombed, when Bollywood suddenly found itself competing with far superior regional films.

An Amazon or a Netflix cares two hoots about built-up star status, and movie watchers are able to switch when they want to, if the content is boring. If you have ever sat through a Salman Khan film, and lived to tell the tale, you would now find some relief in that remote button.

As an avid movie buff myself, I wonder where it goes from here. With home screens pushing the 75-85 inch bracket, and Apple and Netflix bringing virtual surround sound, DTS and Dolby to home cinema, how many of us would be willing to trudge down to the theatre to watch mediocrity?

Yes, an Avatar or a Nolan or a Bahubali deserves nothing lesser than the full-cinema experience, but what about the rest?

In my opinion, the world of cinema has changed – a paradigm shift, that will alter the lives and experiences of many who managed to err…swim naked till now, without being discovered. Content is now truly king. People have watched the beauty, variety and depth of regional cinema – it’s actors (not stars), and their versatility. No more can Bollywood dish out trash in the name of “masala movies”, given that Telugu mainstream has much more spice than Bollywood ever can manage. Fake and shallow narratives cannot compete with the poignancy of Malayalam or Bengali cinema, and Hindi anthropologies are not as engaging as their Tamil counterparts. Subtitles and choice of audio language has further lessened this divide.

Bollywood has no more excuses. They cannot act as representatives of Indian cinema anymore – that representation was in itself a sham. Perform, or ship out.

I wish there was an equivalent in the reading world, where literature from various languages could find an audience across states and countries. It is a bit difficult to achieve though, since mere translation cannot provide the best experience of the language itself. But at least it would be a start, and the Neo-book reader clubs would find more to read, than the Chetan Bhagat quarter girlfriends that they have been subject to till date.

A wish, that remains:)