As wannabe blockbusters wait to hit cinemas, there is concern about how they will be viewed after almost a year of absence. The Covid-19 lockdown has changed tastes considerably. Not only have audiences become used to longform storytelling with diverse characters and intriguing storylines but they’ve also been exposed to a new world of global TV series and movies. Even the more popular entertainment meant for the masses, the equivalent of the proverbial theatrical frontbenchers, has acquired some degree of authenticity and sophistication. As the protagonist of ALTBalaji’s Bicchoo Ka Khel puts it: ‘Aap apni kahani likho, nahin to koi aur likhega (Write your own story, otherwise someone else will write it for you)’. Consumers are creatures of habit and even at the so-called bottom of the pyramid, entertainment is being absorbed mindfully. Coolie No. 1, Varun Dhawan’s duet with dad David that premiered on Amazon Prime Video, may have been screened but how many watched it till the end? According to OrmaxMedia’s word-of-mouth rankings, the film is nowhere in the all-time best 10. That list is topped by Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film, Dil Bechara (2020), followed by Ludo (2020), Lust Stories (2018), Kaagaz (2021), Chhalaang (2020), Shakuntala Devi (2020), Khuda Haafiz (2020), Love per Square Foot (2018), Serious Men (2020) and Lootcase (2020). Will the brute superstardom of Salman Khan or the swift action by Akshay Kumar be enough to draw audiences to theatres? As writer William Goldman said so famously, “Nobody knows anything.” What we do know are the numbers: while Disney+ Hotstar has 26 million subscribers, Amazon Prime Video has 10-15 million and Netflix has 5 million.
Home for Writers
English language writers have a new address and it’s not a publishing house but a streaming service. Netflix will be screening a series and a movie written by Manu Joseph and Anuja Chauhan respectively. Joseph has written Decoupled about the conscious uncoupling of an English language writer played by R Madhavan and his wife, played by Surveen Chawla. Chauhan is the woman behind Sardar Ka Grandson. Neena Gupta plays the Sardar and Arjun Kapoor her US-returned grandson. Chauhan has a TV series in the making as well, the adaptation of Those Pricey Thakur Girls, directed by Habib Faisal.
Usually it’s filmmakers who adapt books. But Devashish Makhija, who co-wrote Black Friday (2004) and Bunty Aur Babli (2005), has adapted his Hindi-Odia 2013 movie Oonga into a novel for young adults. Published by Tulika Books, Oonga chronicles the journey of a little boy to the city where he believes he can become Ram and vanquish the evil Ravana. Makhija travelled through Odisha to record the conflict among Adivasis, the Central Reserve Police Force and big business. His book unfolds through confrontations, especially between two women, Laxmi and Hemla. Laxmi is a Naxalite commander; and Adivasi teacher Hemla’s character is based on political leader Soni Sori. The two are played by Seema Biswas and Nandita Das respectively. Makhija has written Oonga with deep and abiding emotion, and he hopes it will reach many more people than the movie did. It may well be something independent filmmakers upset about the limited reach of their movies will consider.
Global restrictions on travel have meant fewer destination weddings. Exotic locations in Europe have been replaced by destinations closer to home. No surprise then that Varun Dhawan and Natasha Dalal got married at Alibag, as did director-turned-cheesemaker Mansoor Khan’s daughter Zayn Marie Khan (soon to be seen in Netflix’s romantic series Feels like Ishq). And guess who visited Mumbai’s favourite weekend resort recently? Internet’s beloved couple Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.
Did You Know?
Amazon Prime Video is now going through all its series with a fine tooth comb for any political content after it had to offer an unconditional apology for offending viewers’ ‘diverse beliefs’ with Ali Abbas Zafar’s Tandav. The focus is on Season 2 of The Family Man; Mumbai Diaries 26/11 based on the 2008 terror attack, starring Mohit Raina and Konkona Sen Sharma; and The Last Hour, a supernatural thriller set in a Himalayan town, produced by Asif Kapadia and starring Sanjay Kapoor and Raima Sen. India being Amazon Prime Video’s largest market, it cannot afford a misstep.