Covid-19 Pulls Down Cinematic Experience; OTT Rescues With Gulabo Sitabo Marking the First OTT Entry

Change is the only thing constant in our lives. The novel Coronavirus has continuously become a part of our lives. Not forgetting, the virus has changed its nature as well. The cinematic universe was one of them that felt the full effect of the virus. As humans we are technologically powerful and can easily fight the odds of not being able to sit in a theatre. Even though our fight with Covid-19 is an ongoing one, the entertainment industry should not come to a halt. OTT marks its entry like a superhero coming to rescue.

A similar discontent was expressed by Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures Ltd, who expressed his disappointment at the situation, “We are disappointed with some of our producers deciding to go straight to streaming platforms. We were hoping that the Producers would accede to our request to hold back their film’s release till cinemas reopened.”

Covid-19, brought about a change among theatre and theatre visitors until things get back to normalcy. However, until then the movies scheduled for release during this period of lockdown have decided to stream on OTT platforms. The concept is not new for regular users of online streaming platforms. However, the feeling of watching movies in a theatre is very different and carries a different kind of experience. Some movies have a more substantial impact due to their sound appeal and setting, created by the theatrical atmosphere. OTT has changed the game and brought films closer to the audience.

Angrezi Medium Actor  Irfan Khan
Angrezi Medium Actor – Irfan Khan

Technically, Angrezi Medium, starring Irfan Khan, was the first film in 2020 to be released on an OTT platform. It was theatrically released on 13th March 2020 but was soon called off due to the Covid-19 outbreak. After a lot of controversy about rescheduling its release, Disney+ Hotstar bought its premier.

Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo is now streaming on Amazon Prime. The plot adheres to the root of storytelling, and we can go back to follow the methods used by our grandparents (daadi-naani), films like Gulabo Sitabo dwell deeply on those treasured tale sequences similar to those kinds, fresh and unheard. It is this familiar kind of storytelling that takes you on a ride-along’, tickles your funny bone and subtly teaches you a lesson. Gulabo Sitabo directed by Shoojit Sarcar and produced by Juni Chaturvedi is a socio-political satire which made its release on Amazon Prime, after a lot of controversies. Set in the backdrop of Lucknow, the city of Nawab, without the people having to enjoy the “nawabi”. The movie zooms into the lives of the haves and the have-nots. While the former does not leave any opportunity to bring down the latter and have authority over them. The film title is inspired from Gulabo-Sitabo, a duo of puppets familiar to north-Indian folklore famous for having a go at each other and passing hurling insults. They make an appearance at various points in the film.

The struggles of the middle-class family and their regularities brought out a good laugh, but one will chuckle during most instance. It is a story of greed, desperation, foolishness and selfishness brewed together beautifully, which sadly takes up a chunk of the movie. Human attachment with materialism much the crux of the film brought out through wit and irony.

The film has similarity with Tom and Jerry, interpreted in modern times with modern problems placed in a middle-class Indian setting. A tribute to the cartoon is brought out in one of the scenes as we see it playing in the background. Mirza and Baanke, played by Amitabh and Ayushmann respectively, trying to one-up each other is similar to Tom and Jerry. Just like the final show of the animated series, Mirza and Baanke sit together sharing the same despair and leaving their differences behind.

Cinema has undergone revolutionary changes, from 2D to 3D to the cinema at home. BIG B (Amitabh Bachchan) confesses, how in his journey through the industry, he has witnessed and been a part of several changes. In 51 years of BIG B’s career, he was honoured to be part of yet another turn and is ready to embrace it through the release of Gulabo Sitabo.

Want to see what role reversal looks like? While we were merely the audience that filled the seats and shows, and couldn’t quit, now we are THE audience that could choose to either sit through the movie or stop it midway. From skipping intro to skipping the film, we are bestowed with that power. However, we still miss grabbing popcorn, struggling through time to catch our seat till the lights are off. We miss not randomly making plans with friends and family for a movie or grab a seat alone when we want to spend some quality time by ourselves. Can you even scream at the theatre when you see your favourite actor entering the scene? Probably not.

A CNN report titled “The coronavirus is crushing India’s Bollywood, the world’s most prolific film industry” quotes Komal Nahta. The film trade analyst and television host of ETC Bollywood Business, as saying, “The pandemic has likely cost India’s film industry more than $330 million in lost box office revenue and cancelled production shoots”. The OTT market changes the game; lights are going out of shoots, promotions and premiers, OTT witnessed a sharp rise in popularity. Indian cinema will see a loss of billions with the closure of the cinema complex. A typical big-budget Bollywood film spends 15-20 crore on promotions. Since this change is newborn, we could feel the burn even more. With promotions coming to a halt, innovative video ads will take the lead with a hike in payment.

On the other hand, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) hosted its 43rd Annual General Meeting to discuss the changes in the technological front, raising our expectations. Key announcements were made by Chairman and Managing Director, Mukesh Ambani. He highlighted new features in JioTV+. The JioTV+ is an amalgamation of all OTT platforms under one roof. It will include,

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, SonyLiv, JioCinema, JioSaavn and more. One requires a single log-in to JioTV+ rather than logging into different apps separately.

Akash said at Reliance’s AGM event that, “For decades, TV content has been largely broadcast-dependent without any interactivity. With JioFiber, we have reimagined this experience and brought interactivity to TV. Through the Jio App Store on the set-top box, one can access internet applications across multiple genres such as entertainment, education, health, cooking, yoga, gaming, religion, and many more.”

While we come to terms with these new updates, expecting much changes in terms of going back to the theatre post Covid-19 would not be a sensible thing. However, the question is, will theatres become just another luxurious experience? Or will we not get a sight of it all? Will we completely shift to the OTT platforms?