By: Yohan P Chawla
The year that’s about to pass has been an exceptional one for television and OTT audiences. Particularly in the OTT space, there has been a virtual bombardment of original shows; so many, in fact, that at times it becomes very difficult to decide which show to watch. Be it the international platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime or Indian players such as a Zee5, Voot, SonyLIV or a Hotstar, all are fighting for the most important thing in the consumer’s life — their time. With thousands of hours of library and catch-up content, it is a successful original show that drives recall and subscriptions for an OTT platform. Which is why when an Amazon Prime launches a Mirzapur and paints the OOH town red, a Netflix picks up a site opposite or beside the Mirzapur hoardings to boost its own new original series, Narcos Mexico. The competition is fierce indeed. (Strangely, however, Hotstar, the OTT platform that actually helped create and cement a place for the OTT space in India, has been a little low key on original content so far.)
We pick five original shows that that stood out for the buzz around their release and also for the way they were received by audiences. On both those counts, these were the better shows on OTT Platforms in 2018:
One of Netflix’s biggest bets for the Indian market truly paid off. The show had a stellar cast and a compelling story that was adapted from Vikram Chandra’s novel of 2006. Sacred Games was the last piece of work from Phantom Films before it was dissolved in the fierce wake of the #MeToo controversy. Some notable performances included those of Jitendra Joshi, who played constable Katekar, Saif Ali Khan, Nawawuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte.
According to a Statista survey of ‘Estimated streaming revenues of Netflix in India from 2017 to 2020’, Netflix is expected to generate, in 2020, approximately $328.3 million revenues from streaming in India. Now, that number could go up if all the other forthcoming Netflix shows are of the same calibre in their ability to elicit media coverage and audience interest. And while that would be a welcome eventuality for Netflix, what both Netflix and Amazon Prime — producer of the next show on our list – also seem all set to achieve without wanting to, is bring scrutiny and regulation on OTT content of the kind that television is subjected to in India. I mean, look at the kind of vulgarity and crudeness in both, dialogue and actions, that one has seen on both series, all in the name of realism. A line definitely needs to be drawn, and any responsible media organization should be wary of crossing it.
Amazon Prime Video’s latest Hindi original offering, another gangster crime story involving corrupt cops and politicians, has had an exceptionally strong cast led by the brilliant Pankaj Tripathi (who quickly grabbed the Star campaign with Aamir Khan after he shot to fame). Mirzapur has reportedly done very well for the platform, and is already into its second season of production. It was created by Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment, which had produced Amazon Prime Video’s first Indian original Inside Edge. Considering Mirzapur was a tentpole series, just before it launched, Amazon introduced its Hindi interface on the platform in an effort to go local. Mirzapur was Amazon Prime eyeballing Netflix as if to say, whatever you can dish out on exciting storyline, action, guts, gore and worse, Mirzapur can do better. And it matched Sacred Games on most counts, including the brilliance of the casting. The show was shot and edited exquisitely well, and the narrative was a page-turner that I know from personal experience was binge watched virtually on the trot by four close friends.
Amazon Prime Video’s Breathe brought actor R Madhavan to join the OTT explosion. Once again, a crime drama which was the first to launch in 2018. A show which was worthy of binge watching. It was powered by some strong performances, but was, however, let down by the writing at a few junctures in the story. It was produced by Abunduntia Entertainment, which has produced some very good Bollywood films such as Baby and Airlift. The next season of Breathe will have Abhishek Bachchan in the lead. One expects Abhishek Bachchan, with his intensity, will breathe greater life into the next season. Gripping writing-permitting, it should be a great follow up to Season One.
Netflix India’s second original, Ghoul, based on the Arab folklore monster ghoul, was a gripping dark thriller inside a secret military interrogation base. Good performances included those of Radhika Apte and Manav Kaul. The show was cut from a feature film into a three-episode mini-series, which was launched after Sacred Games. The show was written and directed by Patrick Graham and jointly produced by Blumhouse productions, Phantom Films and Ivanhoe Pictures. One isn’t sure if Netflix is getting Ghoul again for another season. If they do, one waits to see how the story would proceed. Horror is a great genre, always difficult to do, but fantastically gripping if done well. Ghoul SE01 was, so one waits for Season 02.
Karenjit Kaur – The untold story of Sunny Leone
One of the most controversial biopics created by Indian OTT platform ZEE5. The show attracted a lot of eyeballs to the platform in its launch phase in the early part of 2018. A biopic which had Sunny Leone playing herself as Karenjit Kaur. The show was so successful for ZEE5 that it has already streamed two seasons, and is set for the third. With Zee5 now available in more than 190 countries, one waits to see the response the show gets from its international audiences. Karenjit Kaur is definitely a brave attempt by the Indian platform. A smartly written and dramatic biopic of a household celebrity is always a winning formula. Let’s wait and watch how Season 3 does.
Little Things season 2
A Netflix acquired show originally created by Dice Media, Little Things Season 2 added a different genre from the top two of crime and horror to the Indian originals platter of Netflix.The show captured modern-day love and romance on “little things” in the big city of Mumbai. They brought back Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal, both of whom have made a mark in digital films and online viral sketches. The first season, about two years ago, went viral on Dice Media’s YouTube channel. One is unaware if the platform would bring Little Things on for another season as the audience the show caters to is a little different and may not be as mass in numbers, but the show does add to the variety of Netflix’s offerings, and on that one count, variety, Netflix is still head and shoulders above the rest.
So, even as OTT platforms are gearing up to bring in some great original content, one expect the story lines will get more startling and even quirkier. One waits to see how the year pans out. Will the new Tariff order regime, set to roll out from 29th of December, 2018, help increased consumption of content over the top?