Return to the small screen

With an explosive surge in Covid-19 cases in India, OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, have once again resurfaced as the key source of entertainment to those confined at homes

68-year-old Shekhar Singh* had been, like most of the other homebound people in the country, feeling hopeless at times. His retirement plan included travelling to various parts of India and abroad, which now seems like a distant dream. Thus, to be in high spirits amid these trying times – he awaits the premiere of big releases on OTT platforms – the only source of entertainment he has these days.

“When I open the newspaper every morning, my heart sinks to see the grim state of our country. How can someone unsee what’s going on around? But I try not to be affected, and maintain a positive outlook – and being a film lover, the best way to do so is by watching new content on OTT platforms,” says Singh. 

The second wave of Covid-19 (in India) came as a shock. After living in partial or semi isolation for almost a year, people just started going out towards the year end – and more so during January (2021) to March. Cinema halls also started witnessing footfalls – though, not satisfactory. 

According to the Ficci-EY media entertainment industry report (published in a news website) 2020, India had 9,527 screens. Around the end of 2020, only 5,000 managed to open. And now again, as we are back to square one owing to the explosive surge in cases every day – cinema halls are making less or no business in India.

Thus, OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Zee5, SonyLIV, Hulu, Hoichoi, among others, have once again resurfaced as the key source of entertainment. Moreover, new plans are coming up to make use of the situation further. The JioFiber Diamond plan (Rs 1499) offers 300Mbps speed and free access to 12 OTT apps including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, JioCinema, Zee5, Sony Liv, VOOT, Alt Balaji, Sun NXT, Shemaroo, Lionsgate Play, and Hoichoi. According to another Ficci-EY report, it is predicted that smart connected TVs will exceed 40 million by 2025.

This remains no mystery that streaming services will be changing the cinematic experience, and unfortunately the big screens will struggle to get back to its feet – for how long, that no one can tell. Like Singh, 23-year-old Ayushi Sen* also find solace in cinemas — and what better than to binge watch series to take her mind off the negativity and anxiousness around. 

“I remember how anxious I was feeling when this second wave started taking its course in India. To calm my nerves down, I started re-watching some of my favourite series like Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video), Sex Education and Schitt’s Creek (Netflix),” Sen shares.

In the first week of April, the news came out that shares of PVR and Inox Leisure plunged up to 8% after the Maharashtra government declared its decision to shut down cinema halls amid rising Covid-19 cases in the state. And this is just the beginning, as per trade analysts. Such losses are about to make its way in the coming months as well.

Dibakar Das, 32, says he’s forgotten how it feels to watch a cinema on the big screens. “I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie at the theatres. Now it seems like some distant memory,” he says. But having said that, Das further adds that had OTT platforms not been there, this vacuum created by the absence of movie halls would have been daunting.

“Yes, nothing can replace the magical experience of watching a movie amid a sea of strangers – feeling the same emotions, and that immersive experience which it offers is irreplaceable. But what can one do? Given the situation, when people are fighting for something as basic as oxygen – we definitely should not complain about these.”

Recently, the news of entertainment industry workers – from spotboys to lightmen in film sets – struggling to make ends meet after the production of many films and shows coming to a halt came to light. This, again, is another way the film industry has been hit and affected due to the pandemic. 

Even the OTT shows and films are not coming out of nothing. Though they might have stocked up a host of content, which can sustain us for months – but there will be a time when the need of newer and fresher content will arise. Hollywood content won’t suffice as it does not appeal to the mass audience. But for the time being, OTT is the only refuge for film lovers…till cinemas open up again. 

(Cover: Credit – themobileindian.com)

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