Thamizh Talkies: The big OTT debate
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
Even as the debate rages on about theatre releases vs OTT premieres, we already have a mainstream film line-up ready for home viewing in a few days. From the Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer Gulabo Sitabo directed by esteemed filmmaker Shoojit Sircar to Jyotika’s Ponmagal Vandhal, we have an array to keep us occupied over weekends, given that most of the work-from-home folks would have likely returned to work, on account of the relaxed lockdown rules. Nevertheless, a visit to the theatre may be a long time away. Even if they do open theatres in the coming months, my key question is, how many of us will have the guts to brave an unseen virus that thrives in a crowd? Travel and entertainment are happy places but are still some distance away.
How does this move augur for the A-lister movies made on humongous budgets? Vijay’s Master for example, or Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru. What about the big-budget period flicks? I foresee such films releasing simultaneously in theatres and OTT platforms. Why simultaneously, you may ask. It’s to satisfy the now-bifurcated audience: Those who want to see their favorite hero on the big screen and those of us who prioritise our safety first before wishing to see our heroes fight villains on screen. This move will also help kickstart the business of cinema at some point—perhaps around Diwali. At least, this is how I am seeing it.
As for shootings and new projects, shoots with smaller crews may see a semblance of work commencing in July—with strict coronavirus-prevention rules in place, of course. Again there are no correct answers. When the whole world sits indoors, with time on their hands, the arts and entertainment are perhaps what it turns to, for solace. In India, it’s been about eight weeks of lockdown and we have by now exhausted all ‘live chats’, made exotic dishes from celebrity recipes, formed new exercise routines and binge-watched new series or films on OTT. We are super ready for new content to take our breath away. But this content won’t come into being from out of anywhere. Writers have to write. Directors have to direct. Actors have to act and producers have to produce. For this surge of new content, OTT platforms will have to relook some of its preexisting notions (read data/stats from surveys on markets and viewing trends) on what content will sell and reach out to producers who have the knack of assembling such content. I read somewhere that good content is one that either engages you or enrages you enough. A good story doesn’t leave you bored. If that is the one thumb rule, then we should see our best writers and filmmakers create good content for home viewing.
The battle between the big screen and small is only in the mind. As Kamal Haasan famously remarked when he wanted to release Vishwaroopam direct to home and was met with furore, “This (digital platform) bulb will burn bright even without any outside electric current (exhibitors/distributors)”. He also said, “The future of film viewing will create filmmakers from your homes.” Truer words have not been spoken. Many “short films and music videos” have already hit social media across the world, shot on the smartphone, edited and mixed with downloaded audio software, with relatively unknown faces. Right now, the one pervading theme in such films is being able to stay motivated in these times. But even after the deadly virus ceases to exist, what will prevail is our ability to create, to tell stories and to engage with man’s artistic and emotional faculties. For that, all the film industry can do now is keep writing those good stories, knowing that the platform of release is perhaps just one click away.