OTT and the fall of India's traditional star system
Rony Patra -
It has been a strange time in 2020. Stuck for the most part of the year during the lockdown, people have had no other option but to seek their entertainment indoors. More than any other year, 2020 has finally allowed OTT to go mainstream in India. Instead of going to theatres, people are increasingly watching all sorts of content online. Stuck with no other option, producers have been releasing long-pending films of all budgets on OTT platforms. And this is where things get interesting.
A lot has already been written about how big-budget films featuring top A-list stars, and initially designed to go to theatres, have received a poor response on OTT platforms. Films like Laxmii, Miss India, Penguin, V, Nishabdham, Dil Bechara, Ponmagal Vandhal, Ginny Weds Sunny, Khaali Peeli and others have been roundly criticized for their feeble storylines. In some of these films, it almost seems as if the storyline was an after-thought and producers were thinking of making profits based on the brand value of the stars. However, audiences have criticized these films for their lack of credible storylines and bad treatment. Producers of various films are now getting a rude awakening—audiences used to OTT have become much more appreciative of good stories, and are not going to settle for anything less.
But this is not something that has happened overnight. Before 2019, the webspace was not something big-screen stars were interested in exploring, as they were the kings of the cinemas. That, however, did not stop audiences from slowly warming up to little-known actors who depended on their acting abilities for performing in complex roles and not on their star value. Actors like Sumeet Vyas, Nidhi Singh, Amol Parashar, Jitendra Kumar, Flora Saini, Divyenndu Sharma, Abhishek Banerjee, Pankaj Tripathi and others understood the value of this appreciation, and they have worked hard to reach a point where audiences want to see more of them. It also guarantees these actors a certain level of appreciation when their movies show on the big screen as well.
At the same time, the A-list stars have realized something that someone like Aamir Khan understood a long time ago (in spite of his rare failures)—the story matters more than the star. In a year when almost all big-budget films have slipped out of contention on OTT platforms, it is worth noting that a few films, such as Ludo, Class of 83, Mookuthi Amman, Soorarai Pottru and others, have been appreciated by audiences for their credible storylines and performances by so-called stars. These films have proved that it is possible to make mainstream films that don’t treat their audiences like kindergarten students. The stories matter at the end of the day. This is why, even if web series are considered as long-format movies, it is possible for a Pratik Gandhi to be called a “star” based on unanimous praise from the audience.
Actors and filmmakers have to wake up to the realization that unlike cinemas and TV, the web is an ocean of talent. People are increasingly making short films on phones and other equipment and then uploading them on YouTube and other platforms, and these are doing quite well. In such an atmosphere, it does not matter if you are a big star who has generated business in the past. As someone said a long time ago, stars are only as good as their next film. Personally speaking, I don’t think the star system will die out, because stardom is all a matter of audience perception. But OTT platforms have definitely changed perceptions of what constitutes “stardom”. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.