'Shankar's films can be a little hard to take seriously'
Our Stupid Reactions and wtfaiwpodcast, two popular American YouTube channels open about the new reaction vidoe trend and their take on Indian cinema
If you have done your time on YouTube, foreigners sitting around computer screens and going, 'Oh my god!' while they see Indian films, won’t be new to you at all. These videos have garnered a huge fan following in India, with more and more channels cashing in on these 'reaction videos'.
As an idea, reaction videos have been in existence for years now. Some research reveals that the first-ever reaction video dates back to 2006 when a child was caught on videotape looking horrified about the popular Scary Maze Game. Later, many such clips turned viral, and now, if you should search for a trailer or a song on YouTube, reaction videos are par for the course.
Our fans seem to have really taken to watching foreigners react to Indian cinema content. On the surface, you could conclude that Indian cinema fans seem to be seeking validation from across the borders but there seems to be a bit more to this phenomenon. We got it in touch with two American YouTube channels, Our Stupid Reactions and wtfaiwpodcast, to understand how they view this trend.
Ten months ago, when Rick Segall and Korbin Miles reacted to the trailer of Gully Boy, they didn’t realise that their lives were about to change. Today, Rick has a tattoo that goes, ‘Apna Time Aayega’ on his right forearm. He claims not only to be addicted to our cinema, but also to our country’s culture. “Having never seen an Indian movie, we were pretty much blown away by the calibre of Gully Boy,” he says. “Like most Americans, we had assumed that Indian cinema was of inferior quality and only silly musical numbers were being done. Gully Boy turned out to be as good as any American film we have seen. Singlehandedly, it obliterated our stereotypes and opened our minds to a whole new universe of filmmaking.”
Meanwhile, Our Stupid Reactions currently has 521K subscribers (Rick and Korbin call their followers Stupid Babies). “Reacting to content honestly, authentically, and intelligently and watching what the Stupid Babies ask us to watch, are the reasons behind our success,” says Rick.
Talking about how their love extended to other aspects of Indian culture, he elaborates, “The more we learn about India, the more we love and want to know about the country. Korbin and I are passionate about seeing things which are beautiful and elevate the human experience—particularly through the arts and culture—especially when that knowledge has the potential of breaking down the walls of stereotypes and prejudices.”
On the other hand, Steven Clark of wtfaiwpodcast, which has about 174K subscribers, was a fan of Indian cinema even before he and his friends began ‘reacting’ to Indian content. “We started the channel in January, 2017. In our second week, we reacted to the trailer of a Hindi movie called Commando 2. I'm a huge martial arts fan. So, I'd been following the career of Vidyut Jamwal since the Kaakha Kaakha remake, Force. The video got considerably more traffic than anything else we'd done. Already being fond of Indian cinema, I used that as an excuse to turn the channel’s focus to Indian films. I think our first Tamil reaction video was for the Singam 3 trailer.”
When asked about their critical take on Indian films, both Rick and Steven say it is tough to point out overarching flaws with Indian cinema. Steven says, “If we were talking about specific filmmakers, I could say that Shankar's films (as fun as they are) can be a little hard to take seriously or I could talk about A.R. Murugadoss' inconsistent editing and goofy overuse of certain sound effects. But there's nothing I can really point to as an industry-wide limitation on visual storytelling.”
According to Rick, “One area in which Indian films seem to often lack is screenwriting, wherein screenwriters make the easier or amateurish choice to tell us things rather than show them. But that seems to be more common in older films. More recent films, irrespective of where they come from in India, have become much better. One more thing: most white/non-Indian actors in Indian films are awful (laughs).”
Steven also talks of how OTT platforms have made things easer for them. “They have done a lot for the availability of Indian films in the States, and it seems like there are more theaters showing Indian films than there were fifteen years ago, but as far as I can tell, this is all targetted at the Indian-American audience. The mainstream audience here still hasn't picked up on Indian cinema. I think it's going to take a big crossover hit to bring serious American attention to Indian cinema, but I'm not sure what it would take to make that crossover hit.”
Rick believes that word-of-mouth reviews will bring such a change. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s tough for Americans to be exposed to Indian film the way Korbin and I were exposed to it. Films like Devdas, Lagan, and Sholay are awful choices to be the first exposure films for outsiders. They need to see Gully Boy, The Lunchbox or English Vinglish first for the stereotypes to be obliterated.”
Despite the huge fan following and the promotion, these reaction videos make for the Indian movies, copyright issues seem to be a concern for the channels. During many instances, the videos were taken down after the pressure from the rightful owners. Producer Dhananjayan says, “Unless they have permission, they can’t have these videos running. It will automatically be taken down by the company which has the copyrights. I would be happy if they are reacting to content without using the videos or if they get permission from the owners.”