From ‘Lust Stories’ and ‘Ray’ to ‘Paava Kadhaigal’ and ‘Annum Pennum’, the list of anthology films released over the last year is long.
Anthology films have become par for the course now on streaming services and gained popularity even though this subgenre of filmmaking has been around for a long time in India. But are these short films a hit with our audience? Are they allowing content creators to push the envelope in terms of creativity and innovation? Do they challenge stereotypes within the narrative tropes?
From ‘Lust Stories’ and ‘Ray’ to ‘Paava Kadhaigal’ and ‘Annum Pennum’, the list of anthology films released (in various languages) over the last year on OTT platforms is long. Leading film directors across India are grabbing this opportunity to experiment and explore new genres. With the pandemic lockdowns forcing shoot of films to be stopped intermittently and theatre shutdowns globally affecting revenue streams, actors, directors and producers have been forced to look at streaming services and television for projects and income. And this has been a big boon for the audience.
Leading directors like Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Karthik Subbaraj, Sudha Kongara, Gautham Menon and Ashiq Abu, have embraced this form of filmmaking. Many state that narrating a captivating story within 30-40 minutes and connecting with the audience at the same time is challenging. However, that’s also the beauty of this form of filmmaking. Have all anthologies been a hit with the audience here? That’s the big question.
One of the key issues is that not all the stories in an anthology film are riveting or well-told and therein lies the problem. While it is great to see various directors with different sensibilities come on board for a single anthology film, only some are able to bring their craft efficiently to the short film. This could be because they haven’t quite grasped the short story format or because the story they have chosen doesn’t lend itself to this form of narration.
Today, the importance given to short films, or shorts, are increasing though they don’t fit into mainstream Indian entertainment content. Short films have never been sought after by television or satellite channels here but thanks to the Internet, the popularity of digital video content and YouTube, they have gained traction. The opportunity for aspiring filmmakers – and even established ones – to showcase their talent and get noticed through shorts (most of them indie shorts) is endless despite the fact that they may not see revenues. However, these short films allow filmmakers to take risks and explore genres they might not have looked at otherwise. Setting the stage and building up the characters, the narrative and conflict, all within minutes is exciting and rewarding for those who seek the challenge.
Having said that, how many Indian directors today even look at short films as a medium to tell stories? This is where Western filmmakers stand out. Most successful directors like Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Taika Waititi, Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold, have directed shorts (which have also been nominated for the Oscars). In fact, some of them start their career by directing short films before they venture into the mainstream genre. Many continue to make shorts even after seeing success on the big screen because it allows them creative freedom and ability to tell stories which would not be possible in a feature film format.
The lockdown has given a boost to anthology films on OTT but once theatres are back in business, one wonders if established directors will look at doing these short films or just prefer to make big bucks on the big screen. Filmmakers are trying to adopt new ways of story-telling in the short format but nothing has been a stupendous hit with the audience. So far, the anthology films released in India have been a mixed bag. They have not challenged stereotypes nor really told stories that continue to haunt you long after you have watched it. Does it affect the popularity of the director? No. Does it make it exciting to see new faces and fresh talent in these stories? Yes. Does it make it exciting to see a story you have read told on screen in 30 mins? Yes.
What the anthology films are also doing is giving rise to audience fatigue as there is no consistent quality across the stories in the film. The skip button on the remote is being used regularly as people are quick to get on social media to share reviews of various segments they believe are not worth watching. We don’t know what the future holds post the re-opening of theatres. As for now, just press play.