The media and entertainment industry is a microcosm of the thoughts, sentiments and desires of the Indian viewer. As audience tastes evolve, the microcosm must evolve too. That is the reason why, today, the entertainment industry is at the cusp of a revolution – a digital revolution.
The Hindi GEC space continues to be dominated by ichhadhaari nagins, shape-shifting daayans, weepy sati-savitris, scheming Machiavellis and sappy love stories. Even as an outlier, which captures the imagination of viewers, does make an appearance now and then, we can rest assured that any earth-shattering change in television content in the coming days is just a figment of over-fertile imaginations.
In the midst of the melee, the viewer is engulfed in déjà vu, with ennui replacing the delight of prime time entertainment. After all, how much more of the same tropes can the poor soul take?
But not all is lost in the world of media and entertainment…..yet. Because, digital entertainment.
Digital is a writers’ medium. In the nouveau ecosphere of entertainment, the writer is king and stellar writing, the kingmaker. The phenomenal success of digital entertainment in 2018 is a testament to the power that great content and sparkling writing wield in the world of storytelling.
Indian digital-scape is currently teeming with OTT platforms, upwards of 40 at last count, each engaged in a race to make content that is as innovative as sliced bread was when it first made its appearance. Net result- web content available in the country today is a veritable smorgasbord of delectable stories and genres, designed to assuage the voracious appetites of insatiable viewers.
As part of our year-ender series, IWMBuzz brings to you an in-depth analysis of the trends that drove digital to the zenith of entertainment in India-
Digital – Thy Essence is Diversity
The one digital entertainment trend that simply begs to be noticed is the sheer diversity of the genres that got featured in the impressive line-up of web shows to hit the net. And the truly astonishing facet of this diversity is that each genre found its takers and achieved success. A spellbinding medley of genres catered to every taste and found representation on the long list of web shows. Squeaky clean family entertainment (Yeh Meri Family, What The Folks, Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain), quaint love stories (Flames, Broken but Beautiful), rustic crime dramas (Mirzapur, Apaharan, Rangbaaz), cat-and-mouse criminal sagas (Sacred Games, Breathe, Zero Kilometres), lesbian romance (Maya 2), a dystopian horror thriller (Ghoul), a sweet, slice-of-life tale (Little Things 2), rip-roaring comedy (Adulting, Imperfect, Girliyapa PA Gals), a serial killer murder mystery (13 Mussoorie), a spy drama (Zindabad) all of these, and more, found space in the giddying, though crowded, digital milieu. Judging by the line-up of shows slated to stream in 2019, this is one trend that is not going anywhere.
Sex, sex and more sex
If there’s one thing that separates the web medium from other entertainment media, it is the lack of interference from the powers that be; aka censorship. Unfettered by the choking grip of censorship, some web shows in 2018 went all out to pander to the Indian viewer’s fascination with sex and nudity. Sacred Games, Gandii Baat, XXX, Maya 2, Mirzapur, as also the Netflix Original, Lust Stories, were some of the shows that featured copious amounts of sex and nudity. But, in a point to be noted, Milord – the sex scenes were designed and shot quite aesthetically, devoid of any sleazy aim to titillate. Will the future of the web be even more sex-and-nudity-laden, or will OTT platforms practise some sort of self-regulatory censorship? Only time will tell.
Cuss – The New Lingua Franca on the Web-
There’s an interesting spin-off to the lax censorship, or lack thereof, in the online space. Apart from sex and nudity, the nonchalant spewing of the choicest cuss words known to mankind, by protagonists and antagonists alike, has become a sordid norm on the web. From l*nd to bh**di** to the more standard mc, bc for the rustic gangsta on crime and thriller dramas, to the f, c, and b-words for urbane characters, the profanity used in several hit shows in 2018 would give the blushes to even the most unaffected of audiences. So much so, that we hereby officially declare 2018 as the year of the rise and rise of the cuss words, decorum be damned!
From Fiction to Non-fiction – Throwing the Gauntlet
2018 saw digital take baby steps towards usurping what is at present the sole fiefdom of TV-land – grand-scale reality shows, a la Indian Idol, Comedy Circus and others of the same ilk. AR Rahman’s scintillating singing talent show, ARRived; Badshah’s collaboration with accomplished musicians and composers, Lockdown; Amazon Prime’s remix extravaganza, simply called Remix; Amazon Prime’s stand-up comedy talent hunt, Comicstaan, were some of the notable reality shows that struck a chord with viewers. The non-fiction space brims with infinite possibilities, and is set to witness an explosion of sparkling content and talent in 2019.
Bollywood Biggies and the Web Factory
2018 was also the year when Bollywood biggies rushed to grab a bigger share of the digital pie. Be it acting, producing, writing or directing, Bollywood was omnipresent in every sphere of content creation for the web. While the early momentum to the growth of the OTT landscape in India was driven by smaller content companies such as TVF, Dice Media, Arre’ and others, it was a virtual gold rush for Bollywood in 2018, with major Bollywood production houses making their presence felt on the web. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films, Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Yashraj Films, Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment, Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, Eros International, Zoya Akhtar, Nikhil Advani, Goldie Behl, etc. were some prominent Bollywood film-makers who have taken the plunge into the inviting depths of digital entertainment. Likewise with actors – 2018 saw R Madhavan, Saif Ali Khan, Pankaj Tripathi, Amit Sadh, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin, Radhika Apte, among others, to make a foray into the digital entertainment space. Abhishek Bachchan joined the motley crew by signing Season 2 of Breathe. Amazingly, experimenting in the world of web series is devoid of the ignominy associated with dabbling in television shows. On the contrary, having a finger in the digital pie is cool and on point.
Boundless and Beyond Regions-
India is a country with a unique demography and a linguistic diversity like no other country. The huge vernacular population in the country, one that is comfortable with neither English nor Hindi, is a lucrative market that no digital player can ignore. 2018 was the year when content creators and video-streaming platforms sat up and took notice of this huge opportunity staring them in the face. Consequently, the OTT space in the vernacular realm is opening up like never before. Web content, specifically aimed at capturing the regional market, is being made with an urgency to leverage the first-mover advantage. Along with original vernacular content, popular shows are being dubbed in regional languages and streamed in both rural and urban regional areas. Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati are some of the vernacular crowd that is being targeted by OTT platforms such as Zee5, Viu India, ALTBalaji and Amazon Prime Regional. Amazon Prime streamed the very popular Telugu web series, Gangstars, in 2018, which they hope to follow up soon with a Tamil language Original. ALTBalaji’s Tamil show, Maya Thirrai, was a hit, while Viu India tasted success with its Telugu offerings – the comedy Pelli Gola, and science fiction show, PillA. According to reports, several OTT platforms have put aside around 30% of their annual budgets to create local language content. In a bid to move beyond the niche markets in the country, content creators are spending plentiful monies to drum up compelling regional content. It really is an exhilarating time for digital viewers, who are lapping up the visual treats being doled out by web players for their indulgence.
Year 2018 saw OTT players raise their content game considerably, upping the ante for their competitors to follow suit, with the result that a broad range of absorbing content was created and streamed for viewers across platforms.
It is obvious that these trends will continue in 2019, further transforming the way India consumes its content. Binge-watching is the new absolute for today’s audiences.
(Written by Rashmi Paharia)