Unlike commercial cinema, creating OTT content—irrespective of genre—is a much more collaborative process often employing multiple writers and directors to work on a series or film.
The rise of Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms in India like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Zee5, Hotstar Disney, Voot, MXPlayer and ALT Balaji, has allowed the audience to view not just diverse content from around the world but also experience new genres. Unlike the silver screen, where the market, actor’s value, investment needed, and producers determine the genre of films that eventually get made, OTT platforms allow for a lot more experimentation because of their format and lower investments. However, unlike the variety of international content one finds on these platforms, most of the Indian original content getting greenlit seems to be based around the crime, thriller and horror genres. So are directors, producers and OTT platforms in India playing it safe?
Ask writer and co-director of the film ‘House Arrest’, Samit Basu, this and he says, “Yes, most platforms are playing it entirely safe. With the threat of censorship both formal and internal constantly looming, and audiences usually rewarding play-safe entertainment, I don’t really think it’s likely that we are going to see much experimentation. It’s likely that within a few years OTT content will be very similar to mainstream TV and theatre fare within a few years. There aren’t really any platforms to experiment any more.”
Most of the series which are highly raved about on social media or written about all fall under the horror, crime or thriller genres. The success of series like ‘Sacred Games’, ‘Paatal Lok’, ‘Mirzapur’, ‘Breathe, ‘The Family Man’, ‘Special Ops, ‘Asur’, ‘Delhi Crime’ and ‘Criminal Justice’, proves this. As do the success of series like ‘Betaal’, ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Typewriter’, ‘Ghoul’ and ‘Brahm’. When asked about this trend, Aparna Acharekar, Programming Head, ZEE5 India, says, “According to research, insights and trends – crime, thriller, horror genres are popular and hence, you will see many such shows across video streaming platforms. The digital viewer who is mainly in the age group of 18-34 yrs has become used to the ‘binge-watch’ format which helps explore these genres in-depth through multiple episodes.”
Unlike commercial cinema, creating OTT content – irrespective of genre – is a much more collaborative process often employing multiple writers and directors to work on a series or film. This allows for more perspectives and talent to come together for a particular show or film and create a more engaging and enriching experience for the audience. While filmmakers feel that this is a great method to generate quality content, they opine that OTT platforms often dictate what content they are keen on thereby limiting the variety that comes onto the platform.
Kannada director Pawan Kumar was one of the directors for the series ‘Leila’ along with Deepa Mehta and Shanker Raman. He says, “When I have been approached by OTT platforms, it is to make thrillers thanks to ‘U-Turn’ but I would rather make a drama. Generally, the OTT platforms tell you what content they are interested in based on what the algorithms tell them as to what the audiences are watching online. Due to algorithms, crime thriller and horror genre recommendations keep showing up on the audience’s screen and they keep watching it. It’s a cycle. I’ve always thought the recommendations that show up on the screen, when you log into a platform, should be random so the audience can watch something different. I don’t think filmmakers are playing it safe but those who make crime thrillers and horrors get deals with these platforms more often.”
The audience also seems to want to move out of its comfort zone and explore new genres as seen by the success of shows and films like ‘Made In Heaven’, ‘Ghoomketu’, ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’, ‘Little Things’ and ‘Pushpavalli’. Comedies, dramas and romances also appeal to viewers provided it is quality content that offers them a fresh or new perspective than what they see on television. Such shows, unfortunately, are few and far between.
‘Betaal’ from Red Chillies Entertainment, was the first zombie horror series in India and it became the top viewed show as soon as it dropped online. Nikhil Mahajan, the co-director of ‘Betaal’, says, “I don’t feel that filmmakers and studios are restricting to particular genres. There is a lot of cross genre stuff like YA (Little Things), Romances (Taj Mahal 1989), and many others as well. I feel the perception is such because the shows in the crime genre get more widely recognised as audiences seem to lap these up more. We are new to the space of long form limited series as a country, so it will take some time for us to figure out what works/what doesn’t work. It’s a matter of time before we see more radical content coming out of India.”