Mainstream Cinema to OTT Platforms: The Opportunity Shift
Bollywood isn’t the ultimate dream for actors anymore. Read on to find out how the web provided opportunities to artists who were otherwise sidelined in mainstream media.
When was the last time you watched a web series and felt like you recognised the lead actor some other movie or show? This feeling has become highly common today with an increasing number of Bollywood actors appearing in web projects. Although the production of movies like Coolie No. 1 in 2020 tells us that the trend of Hindi masala movies isn’t going anywhere, looking at the huge amount of good content that came our way through OTT platforms in the same year, it is safe to say that the Hindi entertainment industry is undergoing dynamic changes, for the better.
With the advent of many players in the digital space other than Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the influx of content has heavily increased. This also increases the opportunities for more actors and stories to shine. Gone is the time when an actor’s success could only be mapped by whether they work in Bollywood or not.
Actors who couldn’t make a mark in the Bollywood industry ventured into web projects and the whole country watched their career flourish. Online streaming platforms provided several actors with the opportunity to take lead roles, even when Bollywood was only offering them insignificant ones. These platforms welcomed actors like Vijay Varma, Vikrant Massey, Jaideep Ahlawat with open arms. After playing small parts in films like Pink and Manto, Vijay Varma came to the limelight through his role in Gully Boy. Since then, he has been seen delivering stellar performances in many web- series such as She (Netflix), A Suitable Boy (Netflix), Mirzapur (Prime Video) and the most recent Ok Computer (Hotstar Specials). Vikrant Massey also found his footing in web shows through Criminal Justice (Hotstar Specials), Broken but Beautiful (AltBalaji) and Mirzapur (Prime Video). This also led him to bag significant roles in mainstream films like Chhapaak and Ginny weds Sunny (Netflix). After being appreciated for his role in Raazi, Jaideep Ahlawat’s career skyrocketed through Paatal Lok’s inspector Hathiram Chaudhary (Prime Video). Ahlawat was most recently seen acting in the Netflix anthology, Ajeeb Dastaans. Amit Sadh also found a successful career on online streaming platforms as he acted in web shows like Breathe (Prime Video), Avrodh: The Siege Within (SonyLIV) and Jeet ki Zid (Zee5). Actors like Vivek Oberoi and Bobby Deol whose careers reached a standstill in Bollywood also got a chance to renew their trajectory in the digital space. These are only a few of the many actors that found haven online. Where on one hand, many actors have ventured into digital platforms from Bollywood, on the other hand, actors like Mithila Palkar and Sobhita Dhulipala also got picked up from the web to act in Bollywood films.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further pushed the need for content that you can watch on your laptop within the comfort of your home. With the dubious future of movie halls, Gulabo Sitabo (Prime Video) became the first Bollywood film to be released on an OTT platform. Other production houses followed suit and now, this has become a norm with streaming platforms vying for big-ticket content. Web content is not only competing with mainstream cinema but also mainstream television. Although laptop screens had already replaced television screens, the shift became wider when there were no new episodes on television due to the initial lockdown. Left with nothing interesting to watch during dinner, many families (including mine) resorted to Netflix. My mother was never a big fan of Netflix, but a month into the lockdown and she started keeping a lookout for new shows to watch on it. This also tells us how the audience demographic has changed during this time. What was mostly being watched by the young population of the country, now is rapidly being consumed and enjoyed by a wider audience.
Realising this change, many major production houses have also struck deals with prominent streaming platforms to produce script-driven content. Red Chillies Entertainment and Clean Slate Filmz are key players in this area. Applause Entertainment is another prominent OTT content-producing company that comes under Aditya Birla Group. Dharma Productions launched their digital arm, Dharmatic to work specifically towards OTT content production.
Another reason why there has been a boom in OTT content has been its distance from censorship which is now, unfortunately, in danger. The uncensored, authentic, refreshing and thought-provoking storylines with great storytelling came as a breath of fresh air to the audience that is getting smarter day by day.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that Bollywood has never produced smart and quality content. Only that the frequency of such content is limited and mostly dominated by big names. Often, other factors such as - the masala quotient, performing at the box office, being hero-driven, having established names - take priority over the script. Bollywood as an industry has, for long, been centered around influential film families and angry-young-man-type heroes. However, with the arrival of digital media, not only has the diversity expanded in terms of who plays the role but also what the role is about.
Many high-net-worth actors also haven’t shied from exploring the web content space. Sushmita Sen made her acting comeback with Aarya (Hotstar Specials), Saif Ali Khan made his digital debut with Sacred Games (Netflix), Abhishek Bachan with Breathe: Into the Shadows (Prime Video) and Manoj Bajpai with The Family Man (Prime Video). Anil Kapoor came to Netflix in AK vs AK (Netflix) and Ajay Devgn is set to make his digital debut with Luther’s official Hindi remake, Rudra- The Edge of the Shadow (Hotstar). Akshay Kumar’s The End on Amazon Prime Video is also in the making which will mark his debut in digital media.
The digital wave is peaking right now and it will only soar higher from here. With many digital releases in the pipeline, streaming content online seems like the only way forward. Then, it is only natural that more and more actors would be roped in for projects on OTT platforms and would even prefer it over mainstream content. Today, major online streaming platforms are vying for the biggest names in the industry to debut on their platform which is very telling of the future of artists in the entertainment industry.