For those interested in mathematics, there is a method of solving equations which involves the introduction of an external character often represented by the Greek letter Lamda. It helps solve the equation, in fact the equation cannot be solved without it. But once solved it can be removed. The solution stays. I will come back to Lamda later in this piece.
OTT is the new field for TV drama and independent film making. It has changed everything, scripts, budgets, quality of art, even the list of senior crew and actors prepared to work on the smaller formats.
The Ad break was the bane of home viewing. As an audience, we had come to believe that our pleasure and concentration was at the mercy of soap, shampoo, sweet black liquids, the list is endless. OTT removed the AD break.
The other possibly bigger bane of home viewing was the belief that while all human beings are born equal, (which is true), therefore they must consume entertainment identically, in fixed doses and at fixed times. This, even though their consumption patterns of food clothing, other necessities and luxuries was in their control their viewing pleasure was in the control of the GECs.
For me, there is a third bane. I must watch my favorite film accompanied by a poison decided by the cinema. Nope! No hope of a cocktail or glass of wine.
Netflix and Amazon changed that. All theories about consumption patterns, attention spans, viewing habits et al were thrown out of the window. What was additionally thrown out was the belief that just because you are watching it at home and on a smaller screen, the quality need not match up to the expectations of the cinema experience.
And, to be honest, what is cinema experience? In India the exhibitors treat independent cinema like they treat lepers. They give the small independents small screens and at the most inconvenient times. If you want to see an independent film it will necessarily be at the cinema’s convenience, not yours.
All that is changing. I have viewed more and better drama in the last two years than I have viewed in the last 20. Never a fan of ad breaks, I never saw films on TV and my lifestyle rarely permitted me to plan a film outing unless it was really “one of those big ones”. Today I look forward to my post dinner two (maybe three) hours of viewing across a range of content. Addictive web-series and films I couldn’t see. All accompanied by my choice of poison.
Also, what the OTTs have created is a giant online super store. The store has everything akin to a real superstore. Laid out for you specially. Popular offerings in the front, shelves full of normal fare and dead stock at the dusty back, but it is all there in case you want it and it’s there at the press of a button.
So, what does all this have to do with independent film? Is this not just enhanced TV? My belief is that it is not. Drama is drama, which is not to be confused with “Spectacle”. And the drama watching experience is not really reduced when consumed at home. “Going to the Pictures” is largely reserved for spectacle. Definitely true of India. If it has a star, if it has mythology, if it is BIG, see it in a cinema. That’s what Indian audiences are doing.
Now back to my Lamda theory
OTT has raised the bar for the viewer and everyone has to stretch up to it. And it has raised the bar for all viewers, so even the ”made for screen” independents have to deliver to higher expectations. India is gearing up to delivering quality. Sacred Games is not quite “Fauda” but it well ahead of anything that Indian TV has ever shown.
Even the so called “Spectacles” have to deliver a higher quality or writing and performance. It has changed completely the quality of writing, direction, photography and, consequently, the amount spent on production.
Now take away Lamda. Fortunately, while Netflix and Amazon have set the bar, they aren’t really relevant to India. Their numbers are sub one million in a 1.3 billion population. The real play will be amongst Hotstar, Sony Liv, Zee5 and the many new entrants. They will reinvent the product for the larger Indian audience.
Let us look at the challenges ahead. Technically we are fine. Creatively we have a bridge to cross. Indian Cinema has defined, even invented its own world. Our characters do not exist. They are larger than life. No one behaves, speaks, looks, dresses, walks or even lives like them. They are written as “invented” characters and our actors deliver them as written.
Scripted drama is different. Writers have to write real characters and situations and actors have to perform them as written. Directors have to understand the real world. All three classes of talent have to reorient themselves, even reinvent themselves. It can be done and hopefully will be done. Sacred Games was a step in the right direction.
This is going to be a new era for independent cinema – different, no doubt, but better and at a larger scale. It will create opportunities for talent that have so far been ignored.