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Anthologies Find Success on OTT as Filmmakers Experiment with Storytelling Formats

Lust Stories and Ray posters.

Lust Stories and Ray posters.

With different directors coming on board to narrate their views on a common theme to allowing the audience a variety of stories to choose from in a single film, anthologies have become popular among the audience.

OTT Trends

Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways and one of them is the way we watch films. OTT platforms are the new cinema halls for movie goers… we meant movies watchers - you don’t need to go anywhere now to watch films, other than from one room to another in your homes.

As your watching experience has evolved, so has the content. The Manoj Bajpayees, Ayushmann Khurranas and Pankaj Tripathis of Bollywood have replaced the Khans - Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir. There are more films with actresses as protagonists, but the A-listers have stayed away so far.

Films have become shorter, and some are just a collection of short films put together - an anthology. Web series trend, and are hot favourites. Potboilers and mass entertainers have made way for subtle, more meaningful cinema. Not to worry, the former films are there too.

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In this series, OTT Trends, News18 looks at how streaming platforms have redefined Indian cinema, blurred lines between mainstream and indie, cut across language barriers, made actors into stars, and above all, brought entertainment at your fingertips.

The last decade witnessed a new trend in films as filmmakers started to make a cluster of stories tied together by a common theme. Films such as Darna Mana Hai (2003), Dus Kahaniyaan (2007), I Am (2010), among others, introduced the Indian audience to this new format of cinema, known as anthology films. These were few and far between, with most of them failing to entertain the audience and set the cash registers ringing. But the concept has gradually picked up on OTT.

Following the critical success of the theatrical release, Bombay Talkies (2013), filmmakers Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar took a plunge and helmed Lust Stories (2018), which proved to be a trendsetter.

Last year, the OTT space witnessed an array of anthology films such as Ghost Stories, Ludo, Unpaused, Paava Kadaigal, Zindagi inShort. The trend has continued this year with films like Ajeeb Dastaans and the recently released Ray received acclaim from the critics as well as the audiences.

Manoj Bajpayee, who was seen in Ray, feels watching an anthology is a unique experience, “Instead of watching one story unfold, the audience gets to watch five different short stories, in different genres. It’s interesting because you get a combination of filmmakers together and then they’re able to bring in extraordinary actors together. And that’s a great treat for the audience."

Ali Fazal who received praise for his role in Ray says it is interesting to see filmmakers collaborating to make a film on the same theme and how they perceive one situation in different ways. “This is an interesting way to collaborate with amazing filmmakers and talents. Filmmaker Satyajit Ray had so many sides to him. That’s what we’ve explored in Ray. It’s hard to pick one of his stories."

Often, filmmakers find it a daunting task to narrate a story in a shorter period of time. But according to filmmaker Karthik Subbaraj who started his career with short films, says that the challenge to narrate a story in a certain time-frame is always exciting, “As a filmmaker, an anthology challenges you to convey your start in a shorter time. The idea is to be crisp and to the point without beating around the bush. A storyteller can narrate unique stories and explore different genres within the same overarching theme to further offer a wide variety to the audience."

Subbaraj who is directing one of the films in Mani Ratnam’s anthology adds, “The format might not have worked in theaters but it is working on OTT platforms because the audience is at the comfort of their home. They enjoy watching four to five films which are made in a distinct style and showcase a common theme in different ways."

One of the reasons for the success of anthologies on OTT platforms is also the pandemic. With the pandemic causing film production to take a serious hit, filmmakers and actors have also found shooting the shorter format easier, with smaller cast and crew members.

The lockdown has given a huge boost to OTT platforms and such films have gained more visibility amongst diverse audiences and allowed filmmakers and actors to collaborate and narrate unique stories and explore different genres within the same theme.

Filmmaker Vetri Maaran, who was one of the directors in Paava Kadhaigal, feels that the format allows doctors a freedom to move out of the traditional format of filmmaking, “Unlike theatrical release, OTT has a wider reach and my audience is the entire world. When you are making a film outside theatrical compulsions, there is freedom to explore the content."

Actor Manav Kaul who was a part of Ajeeb Dastaans feels that anthologies are an interesting way to collaborate with amazing filmmakers and talents. “An anthology film is all about the magic of a short film being told in that much time with an equivalent way of storytelling as much as a feature. It’s nice to watch three-four stories on a common theme and the perspectives of different people.The audience also gets to watch a bouquet of stories told from the perspectives of different people.”

Among the upcoming anthologies we have, Netflix’s Navrasa (Tamil), a nine-film anthology based on the nine rasas (emotions) which is co-produced by Mani Ratnam. Eros Now is producing Aisa Waisa Pyar which will consist of four short stories that will revolve around the centralized idea of different sorts of relationships and the crisis around them for the people in different age groups and mindsets. Netflix is also coming up with Feels Like Ishq, an anthology series of six short films that showcases stories of people from different walks of life. Recently, actor-producer Sohum Shah announced that the actor is making an anthology of ten films which will be in the horror genre.

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first published:July 16, 2021, 09:00 IST