What have OTT platforms made possible for regular Indian audiences since 2016, which wasn’t the case in the decades before? Binge-watching shows? Not quite. 
Desis were spending about four hours, daily, on TV—watching serials, what else, that ran for hundreds/thousands of episodes anyway! There’s the near-unlimited access to film libraries, surely? But movies first belong to theatres — always have; always will.

What the OTTs heralded, and that should only grow with time, is a bunch of genres that network TV didn’t think was ‘mainstream’ enough. Free-to-access Internet would’ve rendered it amateur altogether. And it’s stuff that cinemas had no space for. 

Zakir Khan

Namely, documentary films, series, stand-up comedy specials, and just a lot of content in the reality space! What was the biggest entertainment news of the year?

Docs winning big abroad 

Think about it — we go on and on about the Oscars, right? Right now, end Dec ’22, everyone’s talking about RRR’s chances at an Oscar nom. Well, an Indian feature-length film actually got nominated for the Oscars, in ’22, directed by Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh, and you can’t recall its title? Writing with Fire. 
Likewise, the top prize at Cannes ’22 went to an Indian film — Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. Soon after, yet another Indian film, Vinay Shukla’s While We Watched, picked up the big gong at the Toronto International Film Festival

These are heavyweight fests, where desi movies rarely if ever make it to the competition section, let alone win a return gift. Further, the first batch of Oscars ’23 shortlists had two Indian films, Kartiki Gonsalves’s The Elephant Whisperers (on Netflix), besides All That Breathes (again).

What’s common to all these movies? They are all documentaries, that we’re waiting to watch, as they hit screens in the new year. Because OTTs have added a commercially viable dimension to their unprecedented critical acclaim. 

Bandon Mein Tha Dum

Emo for stand-up!

Are stand-up comedies, as we know them, primarily a western genre? Undoubtedly. Sure, we’ve had Hindi humourists Johnny Levers and Raju Shrivastavs holding mics before. But their ‘peshkash’, with much mimicry, was not the same observational/political/personal comedy that stand-ups thrive on.

So much so that when Kapil Sharma debuted with his Netflix special, I’m Not Done Yet, in ’22, his core network TV fans would’ve wondered, what the hell was that? It was closer in spirit to, say, Vir Das’s nth Netflix special, Landing — in English, delivered in NYC, of course. 

What we were watching is basically TED Talk meets comic story-telling, full of emotions plus nostalgia, where the raconteur’s ‘mess is the message’ — what stand-ups have often veered towards, ever since Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette (2018), or Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King (2017), in particular.

Pretty sure, nobody does emo better than desis. Who further mainstreamed the Indian stand-up scene in ’22, in black kurta, and blacker comedy, about life, ageing, adulting, and death, drawing tears from his audience, along with the laughs — killing it with a Hindi stand-up special? Zakir Khan, on Amazon Prime Video (Tathastu). Zabardast!

Indian Predator: Murder In A Courtroom Pics/Instagram

True crimes take a toll

As multi-season binges go, Netflix seems most invested in the Indian Predator franchise, tracking down, recapturing deranged serial-killers, rapists and other heinous, repeat offenders of the Indian street. 

There were four such mini-series in ’22. To rank them in order of murkiness + merit, design and direction, I’d probably go with Murder In A Courtroom > The Butcher Of Delhi > The Diary Of A Serial Killer > Beast Of Bangalore. Watch them in that order, if you like (and haven’t). 

The last one dropped year-end, and was eye-opening for how often a serial rapist-killer (Umesh Reddy) can escape, after getting arrested by the police (frickin’ five times!). The rest showed us how easy it is to kill, dump, disappear and reappear in a crowd of desis, no matter where you are: village, city, or small-town. 

The quality of these shows needn’t compare with the best in the genre, globally. But, hell, the ‘connect’ is impossible to replicate. The fear is real. This is going on right where you are, just the way House of Horrors haunted us in ’21: “Lalit ko pareshan mat karo!”

Stills of Lock Upp

Celebs locked up

Okay, I needn’t hack into dashboard of desi OTTs to know that all of you actually sit and watch for hours, stuff like Indian Matchmaking, or Moving in with Malaika, or Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives…. What’re they about, but audiences viewing a “celebrity” in a locked-up situation — given the cameras are on, as they go about their day; or date, in the case of Sima Aunty’s series.

Public figures actually in a lock-up, or under threat, for reasons nobody can figure, is progressively becoming a possibility, if not a reality for some, in India. 
How about a show that locks them up for the cameras, in a jail, with the worst food/loo/inmates? That’s what everybody watched on the new reality drama, Lock Upp — the first such, exclusively for an OTT platform (MXPlayer, ALTBalaji).  

The idea is similar to Bigg Boss, yes; which in turn is the Big Brother, global franchise, isn’t it? In fact, all Indian reality shows are ideas licensed from abroad. 
Lock Upp was a rare, desi original, with Kangana Ranaut as the toxic TV host. Stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui won the show’s first season in ’22. Faruqui had earlier spent a couple of weeks, in an actual jail, for a joke he could’ve thought of, but didn’t deliver — no, seriously! The irony was lost on no one. 

Also Read: Yearender 2022: From `The Kashmir Files` to `Drishyam 2`, 6 films that witnessed success at the box office

Sports, the ultimate story 

Before director Kabir Khan got into Yashraj/Bollywood, he used to be a documentary filmmaker, often reporting from war-zones. Only that Khan tells me his films, produced with so much pain, would get viewed at best by the same 500 nodding ‘agreeables’,  at Delhi’s India International Centre in Delhi (and other such venues). It’s the reason he was adamant on going ‘mainstream’ as a filmmaker.

Khan made the Ranveer Singh starrer 83. It released in Xmas, ’21, but effectively bombed in ’22, with the film industry wondering if audiences had abandoned theatres, post-pandemic. Some felt the movie on India’s unlikely, victorious, 1983 cricket World Cup campaign, was too much of a documentary! I didn’t think so. But what if it was?

It’d look more like the ’22 doc mini-series, Bandon Mein Tha Dum (on Voot Select) — on the 2021 India-Australia Test series, that India started off with scoring 36 runs in the first Test, and eventually won the series, defeating Australia at Gabba, where the hosts hadn’t lost in 32 years!

Top Bollywood director Neeraj Pandey (A Wednesday, Special 26, MS Dhoni) directed the sports doc. The best such series in ’21, Break Point (Zee5), on Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, was likewise directed by Bollywood’s Nitesh Tiwary (Dangal, Chhichhore), Ashiwini Iyer Tiwary (Panga, Bareilly Ki Barfi). 

Khan might wanna reconsider — docs seeming quite mainstream, at the moment; maybe more so, in the future.  

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