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.
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.
2020 was a breakthrough year for OTT platforms due to the ongoing pandemic. With cineplexes and movie theatres being shut for most parts of the year, people across the globe were stuck at home and they turned to digital screens to seek entertainment. Apart from consuming content in Hindi and English languages, there has been a huge surge of interest in regional content. In the last one year, we have seen many regional OTT platforms being launched.
OHO Gujarati (Gujarati), Hoichoi (Bengali), Sun NXT (Malayalam), Aha (Telugu) - these are just some of the regional OTT platforms which seem to have gained popularity among Indian audiences and have been able to carve their own place among big players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, among others.
Actor Pratik Gandhi, who became a household name after the success of Scam: 1992, The Harshad Mehta Story, did a Gujarati series Vitthal Teedi which was also appreciated by the audience. The actor believes that regional stories have become popular because regional stories have a lot of new things to stay, “Regional content is fresh, rooted and the audience feels connected to them. There is such a rich literary heritage to choose from in Bengal, Gujarat, Kerala, and everywhere."
Gandhi adds that people are interested in watching quality content irrespective of the language, “I think regional is the new global. There are no language barriers. We are watching Spanish shows here and I feel people are probably watching Gujarati content in Spain. Also, I believe that regional stories are content-driven and not dictated by stars. I recently watched Joji (Malayalam film) and I was blown away by what Fahadh Faasil did with it."
From movies to web series, regional OTT platforms ramped up their content offerings to cater to the upsurge in audience base. Amazon Prime Video has been strengthening it’s regional content. Netflix too has started focussing on regional content in India. Sun NXT has a library of over 4,000 South-Indian movies. Hoichoi has already released around 80 shows in Bengali with almost 20 shows and a dozen of movies in the pipeline.
Actor Swwapnil Joshi, whose Marathi web series Samantar is big success, feels not just in India but all over the world, regional content is making a splash. “Money Heist is a regional show and so is Narcos. I feel regional content is connected to your culture and there is a lot of literature available which is still untapped. Samantar is based on a book of the same title written by famous author Suhas Shirvalkar. But many Hindi filmmakers wouldn’t know about him because they aren’t exposed to Marathi literature and there is nothing wrong in it. So I feel these stories need to be told," he says.
Filmmaker Abhishek Jain is the founder of OHO Gujarati, Gujarat’s first premium content streaming platform. It caters to the Gujarati audience globally, with new original content every 10 days. “We wanted to tell stories but somehow couldn’t because we thought it lacked a theatrical release. We were looking for a different medium and realised OTT can be a solution to it. We decided to come up with a platform where you can watch anything in Gujarati on one platform rather than going to five different platforms."
Another reason for the boom in regional OTT platforms is because Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are becoming huge growth drivers for streaming platforms. Bengali service Hoichoi, launched in 2017, has notched up 13 million subscribers. Telugu service Aha Video reached 1 million paid subscribers within a year of launch as of this February.
“People in smaller towns can easily relate to regional content. We have also seen many stories set in semi-urban and rural areas and will appeal to audiences there," says Marathi film producer Akshay Bardapurkar, who launched his OTT service Planet Marathi last month.
Regional OTT players are also providing a platform to creators who may not find a voice on mainstream services. In January, critically acclaimed Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen was released on a niche Malayalam service Neestream after initially being rejected by top OTT platforms. Two months later it was also released on Amazon Prime Video. Bardapurkar’s film June could not be released in theaters due to the pandemic. The big platforms did not show any interest in it. He launched his OTT platform by releasing the film.
“When we were thinking of creating an OTT platform the idea was how far can we go and tell stories which we are really excited about and not worry about a larger audience and big screens. With that intention we started this OTT platform which is looking for fresh stories, new talents. This opens up a plethora of opportunities to collaborate with each other," says Jain on launching OHO Gujarati.