Thamizh Talkies: Dawn of the digital world
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
Joy is waking up to find a favourite film (this time, Super Deluxe) on a digital platform. An app full of favourites is like owning a personal library of ‘goodies’ for which, one once (the late 80s and early 90s) had to walk down streets, browse through racks of video cassettes and then sign up… like picking up a book from a library. Sometimes, the print would be really bad and you would realise it only after walking all the way back home and inserting the cassette into your video deck. The cassette would make a weird noise and shake in multi-colour on the non-LED screen. The video deck was the first real gadget to have a ‘play’ button before the Playstation era. The DVD era took over later (early 90s till the turn of the millennium).
The DVDs made piracy soar and Burma Bazaar shops near Parrys Corner would be hounded by souls like me, who would need to hold that favourite film title in the palm of their hand, just to feel proud of their ‘collection’. Yes, for some of us, owning books and films is as much an addiction as owning shoes and bags (which I have never cared for, despite the generalisation of my gender’s affinity for such things). To own a Criterion Edition of say, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or The Godfather Trilogy is why I would await the arrival of a friend or cousin from USA. I still have the collection up in three lofts, hoping one day to convert them to DVDs in 4K resolution, the resolution we see films in, on digital platforms these days.
This joy of ‘owning’, of having a film in one’s own library, is unparalleled. Despite digital platforms not reaching beyond even 1% of metro markets (thanks to internet and broadband service ranges, and how our politicians seem to like to keep certain sectors of our country poor and illiterate), there is a huge perception of ‘reach’ that accompanies a digital release. Soon, we will have films across India which will be made only for digital release. This new market for the motion picture industry has picked up momentum in the Hindi film industry and the South is slowly waking up. Though major players like Netflix and Amazon are yet to launch and fly with regional language content, the other platforms have woken up. There are that many more digital windows (literally) that are now open for our filmmakers. The joy one had in holding a favourite cassette or DVD is now replaced with seeing the title flash on the screen of the smartphone or iPad. It is the virtual equivalent of having your favourite film not only in the palm of your hand but also at a click of your finger.
However, these digital windows are still only partially open. Content creators/scriptwriters/new-age producers don’t have these windows open to them, as much as established production houses do. Every new content producer is handed over the rules of the digital content game. Personally, it’s good to have rules, but it’s even better to know who’s playing the game or where exactly the rules need to be emphasised and relaxed, for creativity cannot be standardised or brought under one rulebook. The Indian entertainment market itself is not homogenous.
But good content certainly is. The key query here is, ‘What qualifies as good content and who decides it?’. As in television, digital platforms also rely on statistics and viewer behavior to assess what works. Each time you log in and out of your digital app to watch something, it is recorded and the powers that be in these platforms get a second-to-second report of how many people watch their content, and when, where and why do viewers leave a series or story halfway. This kind of data perhaps gives them some indication of what people seek from their platform (or channel).
The key word again here is ‘perhaps’, because there is no one barometer to assess what works and what doesn’t in any medium. Irrespective of the platform or screen size, what always qualifies as good content is determined by whether what you watch has entertained you, engaged you and engulfed you (in a happy, thrilling or emotional way).
I have a simple barometer to assess whether what I’m watching is engaging me or not. If I don’t check my mobile phone even once during screen time, then that content is Super Deluxe for me. The number of times I look at my phone to see who’s messaged me or whether I’ve got a call, or worse, to look at Facebook or Twitter during a film/series, tells me a great deal about what I’m watching. That’s my barometer. What’s yours?