Quick Reads

Urban content of the streaming era

The emergence of streaming services is opening new avenues for Indian content.

Credit : Fossbytes

There used to be a time when television shows were the only sources of addictive entertainment for families. No matter what quality they provided, we used to cry and laugh over the silliest things. Be it a woman getting reincarnated after her sudden death or the endless rituals of every festival being celebrated, most of us were fixated to our television screens. There was this joy involved in watching these daily soaps, as a family. I remember talking about some saas-bahu trivialities with my school-teacher as if it’s my own tragic life. No kidding! I would get engrossed into their tragedies and there was hardly a question of superficiality. No ten-year-old kid from my household at least would go on to contemplate over their pathos or think over how cruel some of these celebrated ethics were.  We would just follow them blindly; respect the elders and bow down to everything held sacrosanct by them.

Not that the obsession for such implausible dramas has seized to exist.  There are still a large number of viewers targeted for the content of similar likes, the one where they can still live in their bubble of sanskari ethics and about the flawed ideas about a morally superior person. The disintegration of ‘families’ have started since the content has started getting free from these barriers. So the newly-wed twenty-something’s who were initially invested in the television telecasts of the saas-bahu dramas, are substantially shifting to the online streaming platforms. The younger Gen Z is growing up with the existence of Netflix or Hulu more than Tata Sky around them. It’s not even news at this time where every other brand is trying to capitalize in this market. Just that all of us, as a country, have lately started to realize its potential. Despite its obvious cons, these streaming platforms have changed much of the content for good. 

While most of the television serials used to speak about families and traditions, they revolved only around privileged households. The Hindi daily soaps were largely about how the grandeur of Gujrathi-Marwari families prospers with the undying devotion for their moral codes. The over-saturation of similar setting had since plagued the TV shows and no matter how much they tried to unequivocally shift to lower financial classes, the established formulas hardly changed. They still never reached the reality of the people they were trying to present. These characters never spoke like real people. 

Even when they did, their characters would end up being victims of the same saturated trends.  Take an example of two characters- Shree and Janhavi which belonged to a popular Marathi daily soap. With the overdone rich guy-poor girl trope, they initially established a fresh ingenuity about their relationship within the viewers. Of course, for a couple, meeting at a bus-stop, their interactions were naively ‘realistic’. But they still dressed according to the known standards and behaved in a similar plastic way (and worst of all) ended up being stereotypes. 

While watching ‘Aani Kay Hava’ (a web-show on MX player), the characters of Saket and Jui felt largely appealing to me; mostly because of my conditioning over the years into believing that aforementioned plasticity.  These two are shown to be shifting to a new place as a couple and submitting to the sugar-coated idea of ‘new beginning’. So, even when their characters lacked the necessary depth to become multi-dimensional, their interactions felt much fresher and closer to the privileged couple they were representing.  Much like its Hindi equivalent ‘Little Things’, which it seems to have taken inspiration from; their clichés sounded more real to me. Their corniness had a little more affection to it. And this is not just for the change of apparel or living conditions being shown. Every aspect that went into the filmmaking seemed to have an impact on the result.   

Let’s take it as a case study. Within the first episode, the direction seemed highly assured with the use of unapologetic long takes. The episode was about them unpacking the boxes while arguing about their duties and finally concluding to how they love and complete one another. Having both the theatre-actors at his hand (Priya Bapat & Umesh Kamat), it wasn’t unlikely for the director to pull off those takes; because both could lift those scenes on their bare shoulders. Even with the highly predictable and cheesy plotlines, both of them knew how to keep their act, unpredictable. Just look at the humor throughout these episodes where certain bits are written particularly to induce a response. Be it merely a cringe over a bad joke. The silence following that moment doesn’t look measured. You can easily understand their skills of hiding those cues with, what I would call the natural non-acting. 

Besides, they were not horribly lit like most of the television shows (which ironically showcase the skills of their crew for flattening out every conceivable tone on the skin!) The effect of gorgeous natural-looking light in this web-show was carefully designed. It was not showy; nothing shouts for individual attention or breaks the narrative continuity. But every single object would look like how their counterparts, in reality, would ideally look.  Of course, this is not the first, or even the only content, which gives attention to such details. But it goes on to show how the carefully crafted scenes can uplift a predictable script. 

One other thing about the show is how they were not speaking merely according to the writer’s idea of how the urban people talk in reality, but with an actual understanding. In a slightly low-spirited episode, Saket and Jui were speaking about their exes as if they’re experiencing the past all over again. But their conversation had started on a slightly awkward note. While coming up with the words to express about the past and to initiate the conversation, Jui fumbles and eventually shifts from Marathi words to speaking in English. Saket finds it amusing - how shifting from their typical culturally-suitable trivialities to more western philosophies, the language changes without their knowledge. As if this particular type of conversation is foreign to them, devoid of any trace of the way that our culture makes us think. Speaking about such past relationship would generally induce a heated response between the spouses. But they’re far more neutral and rather enjoying it while being more open about such things. This change in language and the cultural shift is more realistic, just as much the show presenting it. Maybe embracing more believable content like this might just take us out of the era of lazy filmmaking.