Theatres re-open, Bollywood is back!

Will the cinema halls now find their entertainment space hijacked by OTT or confidently slip back into their earlier role?

Representative image
Representative image

Monojit Lahiri

In the beginning come the questions.

Has the vaccine, the general drop in pubic paranoia and intensity regarding the dreaded Covid 19 injected new hope and excitement among the big-screen junkies? With more people emerging out of the woodwork (read: self-imposed House Arrest) into public life (streets, cabs, public transport, offices, pubs, restaurants, clubs, even small social & family get-togethers) are things returning to the old normal, with the new normal (sanitiser, mask, social distancing) in place? Are happy times, slowly but surely, in the movie business, on the comeback trail? Most importantly, will the (quarantined) ready-for-release Bollywood blockbusters still be able to solidly woo back its customers from the new darling, OTT?

Veteran Film-maker Vinod Pande, takes first strike. Right at the outset, he is thrilled at the OTT explosion and believes that niche has finally found its catalyst in these streaming platforms that reaches zillions across the globe. “In our time – the 80’s and 90’s – we filmmakers, who made small-budget content-driven, non-formulaic films struggled to counter the Producer-Distributor-Exhibitor barricade, because they were sold totally on the big blockbusters. If at all they loosened their vice-grip and let us in, it would be for a very limited engagement period, in remote theatres and weird timings. So, our films hardly got any worthwhile exposure. OTT has smashed that hi-handed monopoly and opened its doors to varied content that celebrates ideas, even of the creatively adventurous and experimental kind. The marketing of creativity has actually happened and for our kind of filmmakers, it appears to be apna time aagaya!

Veteran actor Joyoshree Arora – best remembered for her fabulous turns in the path-breaking TV serial Hum Log and Buniyad and SRK’s magnificent Chak De India – seconds the motion, adding her informed opinion, cutting to the chase in a flash. She believes that the return of the Big Screen, now comes with a rider: No trash with flash. Good content haazir ho!

“The OTT has introduced the ordinary non-intellectual/art house movie-goer, earlier addicted to masala, a new template. While it’s foolish to expect them to forget their favourite Khans, Akshays, Ajays, Ranbir etc, they are now likely to be more demanding in their choices. Why? Because somewhere, they have moved beyond their stars’ chhammak chhallo charm and corny dialogue-baazi and seek some kind of meaningful engagement that appeals to ear, eye and mind. So, basically I see the return of Bollywood films coming with a red-alert! The simplistic, vacuous, easy-to-digest pot-boiler riding only on star-dazzle of earlier times won’t work anymore. It’s a wake-up call and a great time to re-invent a cinema that entertains in a fashion that is not totally superficial and hollow. Can they do it? They certainly have the talent and resources. They only need to re-look at their basic intent and the writing on the wall...”

My personal view is, the dedicated loyalists of the Bollywood blockbusters and crazy fans of the stars will return to the halls soon, with all cylinders firing. The moderates too will most definitely hit the halls and the reason is simple: cinema was always meant for the big screen and there can never be a substitute. The movie-going event and big-screen-viewing experience can never be replicated.

This year-and-a-half disruption was an accident of nature and certainly an eye-opener in many ways, but to believe that it will be a game-changer that will kill Bollywood would be naive. You see it’s very simple. The intelligent movie-goer is a schizophrenic. His expectations and compulsions of OTT and big screen are totally different while viewing the two different segments.

OTT means interesting, engaging, fascinatingly varied fare, many of which are real class, from unknown film-makers and actors across India and the globe. Intimate personal cinema that you can consume in the comfort of your home, with or without company, with breaks at your convenience. A blockbuster from Salman, Ranveer, Ajay or Akshay with Kat, PC or Dipu as dazzling, drop-dead eye-candy, however, is a totally mind-blowingly different scene! The normal viewer is traditionally conditioned to this larger-than-life model and continues to view movies as nothing more than feel-good entertainment. So, while OTT will be a culturally and intellectually evolved and enriching experience, generating cutting-edge debate, discussion and reflection, the big screen will continue to offer uncomplicated popcorn for the eyes and tummy!

It, therefore, is a win-win situation is on the way for both masses and classes – fingers crossed!

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