It had been some time since Indian cinema and TV shows had become run of the mill, repetitive, and downright boring. The content was painfully predictable, the jokes were rarely funny, and frankly, there was enough of the hero-heroine-villain drama. While the babas, bhais, and bahus of Bollywood and TV earned their big bucks by selling sub-standard movies and TV serials to the public, quality Indian content lost its voice somewhere. Surely, there were sparks of brilliance when films like Gangs of Wasseypur, Newton, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, among few others were released, but such content was far less in number and short-lived compared to the big-budgeted and 100-crore earning films and TV shows. Traditional entertainment platforms of cinema and TV corrupted a significant chunk of the Indian content.
There was an urgent need of alternate platforms where quality Indian content could thrive and flourish. The advent of web-exclusive entertainment platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime provided such content with a stage where content creators could produce cinema and web-shows, no holds barred. They could experiment at will, write and produce content which was more life-like and relatable, and, most importantly, evade the prying eyes of the censor board. Thanks to such platforms, content creators have started to bring forth the potential Indian content has had over decades.
Sacred Games is Netflix India’s first original show directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. The first season of the show, which was released on July 6, is anything but traditional Indian entertainment programming. Swear words, which are largely considered offensive and beeped or muted otherwise in movies or TV, were used aplenty, sex scenes were uncensored, violence was shown with the right amount of gore, and sensitive topics, which need to be spoken about, like the plight and treatment of transgenders were dealt with a sense of maturity. All of this made the show raw, real, believable, and even relatable to some extent.
More importantly, the show is centered around the institutions of organised religion which, in present day India, are largely responsible for causing communal strife in the country. It has attempted to engage the audience with a controversial subject which has far-reaching negative effects if not addressed. Apart from entertaining the audience, the show has highlighted significant social ills and their consequences for the country and the world at large. Such a show would never pass the censor if it was produced as a movie for theatres or a tv show. Miraculously, if it did clear the censor tests, cuts, chops, beeps, and blurs would be abundant and the essence and the purpose of the show would be lost and we may have ended up watching ‘Games’ instead of ‘Sacred Games.’
Mainstream film-makers, too, have experimented with Netflix and Amazon Prime. The recently released, ‘Lust Stories,’ is an anthology of four short films directed by Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, and Karan Johar on Netflix. All four stories deal with sexual relationships of a different nature. While the first explores the nuances of physical relationships between a college teacher and her student, the second delves deep into the forbidden abyss of sexual relationships between a bachelor and his domestic help. The third throws light on a woman’s psyche in a mature extra-marital affair and the fourth depicts the value of fulfilment of a woman’s sexual desires. Such an anthology would never make it past the ‘sanskari’ Indian censor board members since the subjects dealt with in these short-films are ‘too bold, mature, and inappropriate’ for the Indian audience.
Farhan Akhtar had joined the digital bandwagon way before Sacred Games and Lust Stories were released. Along with Ritesh Sidhwani, he produced Amazon Prime India’s first original series, ‘Inside Edge.’ The show is centred around a franchise cricket team, Mumbai Mavericks, in a domestic twenty-20 league based on the Indian Premier League. It underlined match-fixing and betting in cash-rich leagues, sex and controversies, the Cricket-Bollywood conflict, the involvement of the underworld in cricket, casteism in the sport, among various other things. The show made a praiseworthy attempt in bringing forth few harsh realities of cricket which fans, largely, are unaware of. Like Sacred Games and Lust Stories, Inside Edge would never have seen the light of the day had it been released as a conventional TV show. The topic that it dealt with is controversial and the treatment of the topic was raw and life-like. For producers of traditional TV shows taking up such a show would have come with its share of risks which they would not be willing to take.
Interestingly, Balaji Telefilms Ltd, one of India’s leading television program producers famous for its saas-bahu sagas, have their own subscription-based video on demand online platform, ALTBalaji. Shows on this platform are like chalk and cheese when compared to Balaji’s traditional tv programming. Shows on ALTBalaji deal with various subjects and themes and are treated differently than the shows produced by Balaji for conventional TV. For instance, ALTBalaji’s original series, ‘Bose: Dead/Alive,’ was a historical drama centred around revolutionary freedom fighter, Subhash Chandra Bose and the controversy surrounding his death. Before ALTBalaji was introduced, Balaji would never have thought of producing such content and they stuck to their saas-bahu sagas.
Like Balaji, other leading Indian television networks like Viacom18 and Zee have their subscription-based internet platforms, viz., Voot and Zee5 respectively. Content produced on these platforms, too, vary, in subject and treatment, from shows being produced for their TV counterparts. It is obvious that different forms of content can’t grow in traditional TV programming and need newer platforms. Through these web-based streaming platforms, viewers have been introduced to a number of subjects through their programs. With time, these platforms will grow and the number of subscribing users too will increase. If traditional television and cinema have to survive this race and make a match of this, its high time they pull up their socks.
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