Pop Stuff: The Sliver Screen
As Netflix enters India, we already have Hotstar, Eros Now, Bigflix and a host of others offering streaming content. But that doesn’t seem to have put a dent in Bajirao or Airlift at the box office.
My guilty mumbai pleasure is the movie theater. Still a communal experience; the auditorium is packed, there are people to shush and the commentary is immediate. In the US, unless I’m waiting with the light saber fanatics at Star Wars’ opening weekend, on an average movie night, it’s a few heads bobbing ominously in a sea of seats. The proliferation of content on what was once TV, driven by the success of streaming services has people reclaiming their couches. It’s Friday night and everyone is binging on Netflix.
Change is undeniably already at our doorstep. Indian director Q, whose coming-of-age comedy Brahman Naman recently screened at Sundance, that holy grail of indie films, will premiere worldwide on Netflix. And as Netflix enters India, we already have Hotstar, Eros Now, Bigflix and a host of others offering streaming content. But that doesn’t seem to have put a dent in Bajirao or Airlift at the box office. Perhaps we are die-hard cinema goers after all, obsessed with seeing our big stars on a bigger screen? As much as I hate to admit it, I think that’s as improbable as our happy endings.
The truth is we’re not yet at the point where we can get the girl or boy of our dreams without the song and dance. The movies available on our digital platforms are not latest releases (piracy notwithstanding), tuning in to our favorite shows still requires a cable cord and we don’t have the bandwidth to stream on the go. But the US looked the same just three years ago and while the studios and networks that ruled the roost snoozed, Netflix and Amazon were nominated for major awards, people cut their cable cords in droves, a TV channel without a digital component suddenly had the antiquated feel of nana’s old radio and YouTube had turned into a studio with baked in celebrities launching original movies.
Disruption is going to change our landscape faster than we think. AIB and TVF went from being renegade sketch comedy writers to digital heavyweights. In 2015, AIB debuted their own show on Hotstar and TVF’s web series Permanent Roommates became one of the most watched long format web series worldwide. Content has sprouted on line in India and Bollywood is backing into the game. Yash Raj’s banner Y Films launched their first two web series last year. Priyanka Chopra has started 2016 ahead of the game with a mobile first show centering around four girls tackling life in Mumbai. The subject matter seems apt; the new kids on the block are indeed taking over.
Even our movie crazed nation will not be immune to the power of watch it anytime, anywhere. While the majority won’t be transitioning from TV to digital and from the big screen to staying home because both the cable connection and cinema outing are luxuries, it’s conceivable that well within a decade, most people will have enough viewing choices on their new phones. And although the more fortunate may not have enough downloadable content to hijack a trip to the theater today, the old guard and the young turks alike are racing to create our very own House of Cards for tomorrow. When this happens, Bollywood might not be scoffing at the idea of a small screen premier. I don’t like it, but I’m bracing myself to give up the trip to the Silver Screen for the sliver in my pocket.
The author is a former hedge fund manager-turned-film producer and magazine writer. Twitter: @whats_cutting