HT Brunch Cover Story: Valentine’s Day Special - Love or infatuation?
I vividly remember going to watch Devdas (2002), my first movie in a single-screen theatre, when I was all of eight. It doubled as an extended family outing, for which we had booked an entire row in the cinema hall. Now that used to be the charm of watching a movie on the big screen! Cut to last year at home, when we finally got a decent Wi-Fi connection, thanks to work from home, my grandpa would nudge me to stream Malayalam movies post lunch, which kept him glued to the sofa.
The seismic shift in the Indian film industry has been gradual and it is happening again. The year of the pandemic has changed the way content is being consumed, movies included.
So, a few minutes into my Zoom interview, when I ask actors Vikrant Massey, 33, and Radhika Madan, 25, about their viewpoints on the announcement of censorship on OTT, Vikrant says, “I honestly don’t find a difference. We have to concede that when there was no censorship, people would go overboard.” Radhika spontaneously chimes in: “Vikrant, I’m sorry to cut you off but do you think that a show like Mirzapur will be possible after censor board comes on board?”
As for me, I smile to myself (victoriously), as the conversation has set the premise for the debate of OTT vs theatre-going experience!
The streaming story
So, when I ask our actors to choose their stance, Radhika says: “Of course, there’s comfort [in streaming]. I can pause it anytime; I can go to the loo and continue to watch on my phone. I can multitask and watch, let’s not get into it in detail,” says Radhika and Vikrant chuckles almost as if he’s guilty of doing it.
“But,” she adds, “I also feel that our attention span is reducing. According to stats, the short films are working more, whereas if the duration is longer, a lot of people tend to get distracted faster. Rest Vikrant sir will tell us,” she smiles.
Vikrant nods and says: “True. Due to the Covid phase, lot of people have lapped on to OTT because they had no choice. I was very fortunate because, whether OTT or theatre, people have been very kind to me. Plus, given that there are so many takers for good content and diverse platforms, God has been kind! And it is here to stay. Not just in India, but the consumption of entertainment worldwide shows that streaming platforms have found their footing. It’s in a transitional phase still, but it is a welcome change.”
Couch comfort or curtain-raiser?
Making a movie is an effort involving hundreds of people. How, then, does it feel when the audience pauses a movie midway to go cook or to take a nap?
Radhika takes the first pass, and says: “Look, for a lot of people, movie-watching is not a serious thing. For an actor, or for people from the industry, it is. My mom doesn’t mind getting up in the middle of the movie to get popcorn, and I react with, ‘How can you get up in the middle of a scene?’ So, while I’d prefer that people watch my scenes carefully, I’ve also realised I cannot expect that all the time.”
“Cinema-viewing is akin to culture in our country and the last 30 years have seen a huge transition from the single-screen to multiplexes,” says Vikrant and adds: “For a middle-class family, to go watch a movie once a month is an event. It’s an experience!” (Now I realise why Devdas is etched in memory so clearly.)
To watch themselves on ‘the big screen’ is often an actor’s big dream and this year has deprived us of that experience, and advent of the OTT has furthered it.
“With such little time and so much to do, watching a movie on a small screen seems like an easier task. If I speak of Mirzapur, people have watched it while commuting to work, or my building watchman watches it at 11 pm after he shuts the society gates. While you may want to have that community-viewing, larger-than-life experience, and I am missing it but these are two different things,” he says and adds: “OTT is a space that is allowing creative people to show their art through storytelling.”
To this, pat comes Radhika’s retort, “It depends on who is watching what kind of content. There are people who feel if ‘I take a subscription equivalent to a movie ticket, my entire family can watch lounging in our hall for a month. Why then should I pay money to go to the theatre? So, it really depends. I feel a Rohit Shetty movie can truly be enjoyed in a theatre, but others might not feel the need. As Vikrant said, it’s an experience!”
To censor, or not...
Circling back to the censorship issue, Radhika takes a five-second pause before answering, “It depends on the script, to be very honest! I liked the fact that there was no censorship on OTT platforms because you could show the reality through real emotions and real language, and you don’t have to decorate the premise, you know? It’s not a Sooraj Barjatya kind of movie, where you’ve to show hum sab saath hain (we are all together) and only that is celebrated. That reality and freedom is going to be amiss!”
Vikrant believes in the need for self-check. It helps stay closer to realism. This isn’t necessarily compromised with a censor board being present but depends on the kind of censorship that’ll come into effect, he feels.
“Censorship was always there, whether it was cinema, television or even newspapers. I believe that there is a manner in which everything has to be told and that needs to be ensured. If they want me to talk about a pressing issue that I also relate to, I may have a problem but if the censor board wants me to reduce the nudity in the film, fair enough. I’ll wrap it in a different manner, but I’ll continue telling my stories. Also, this thing about realism can only be shown through a particular language is not entirely true. When I did Balika Vadhu it ushered in a new era of shows, which had social realism, so if it is meant to be within rules, it can happen.”
‘It’s all scripted’
Speaking of Balika Vadhu and television shows, since both Vikrant and Radhika started their acting journey from TV shows, has OTT leveraged on TV’s regressive scripts, I ask.
“There are only five per cent shows which speak in larger context as opposed to 95 per cent shows, which have bad content but end up influencing the majority. It’s high time TV producers and script writers make impactful content that’s also entertaining. We are over the saas-bahu sagas. Stop the plastic surgery redo yaar and let’s have shows like Balika Vadhu!” says Radhika. To which, I quip: “Even though Radhika pushes for shows like Balika Vadhu, don’t you think they lose their track over time?”
“Television is like a door-to-door medium. Even today, our country’s majority is the middle-class and their main entertainment consumption is via TV. The structure remains the same, so regressive content is there, unfortunately. But we can’t look at it from a one-dimensional perspective, because when we ask questions like ‘Why are shows like this still made?’, the makers say, audiences are buying that, there are sponsors willing to pay and eventually, it is business. So many people are still ready to buy the substandard content to escape from their mundane lives. As an actor, what I can do is not be a part of such movies or a performer of such content,” says Vikrant.
As we end our chat, I’m relieved to have not fuelled a heated argument between two amicable actors. My takeaway: it’s always multiple, contrasting voices that round off an intelligent argument. Wouldn’t you agree?
So, go enjoy a smart squabble, this Valentine’s Day!
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From HT Brunch, February 14, 2021
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