Last week, I conducted a roundtable conversation with four political comics – Kunal Kamra, Varun Grover, Rajeev Nigam and Sanjay Rajoura. Kunal was wearing a t-shirt that said: Just here for content. That t-shirt spoke for all of us – we are all here for content. And I think the reverse might also be true – content is here for all of us. It’s everywhere – from our phones to iPads to computers to televisions to big screens – seeking our eyeballs. And the variety boggles the brain – you can, for as little as 100 rupees for three months, get the Alt Balaji App and see shows like Gandii Baat (tag line: urban stories from rural India). Or pay more and see High Flying Bird, Steven Soderbergh’s made-for-Netflix film about athletes during an NBA lockout. Or choose among the thousands of short films on Youtube. Or head to a multiplex near you and see Shazam, a sweet, goofy movie about a teenage boy who becomes a superhero when he says, ‘Shazam’. And of course, it’s only a few days to the last season of Game of Thrones so you might want to refresh and watch some of the earlier episodes. Or watch Avengers: Infinity War to prep for the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame, which is being touted as the cinematic event of the decade.
Frankly, I’m overwhelmed. There’s simply too much to see and not enough time. Thanks to the adbhut mishran of the glut of content and social media, the cultural conversation changes every day and I can’t keep up. First of all, when exactly did we start calling it content? I managed to watch all of Made in Heaven (loved the layered storytelling and that an ambitious, flawed woman and an openly gay man were the center) but I never managed to finish the gritty and grueling Delhi Crime, despite Shefali Shah’s memorable performance as the formidable DCP. Delhi Crime is a skillfully rendered police procedural with terrific actors and I felt guilty abandoning it but there was simply too much else to catch up with.
I also wonder – does my visual literacy suffer because I’ve never seen Game of Thrones? How much must a film critic consume to stay ahead of the curve? And is it too late – have I missed the bus already? And of course – is this a new type of guilt? Abandoning good shows-guilt?
According to the Boston Consulting Group, India’s OTT streaming market will touch 5 billion dollars by 2023. It’s a great time for storytellers and artists. But what do us viewers do? Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that Netflix’s biggest competition is sleep. He’s absolutely right. We’ve all binge-watched and bleary-eyed, hit the next episode tab, because we simply couldn’t pull ourselves away.
Basically, we’ve become content-addicts – consuming and constantly searching for the next hit. I don’t know if it’s healthy. But it’s a lot of fun even though some of us have that slightly wild, desperate-to-catch-it-all look in our eyes. We are deluged by content. But as I gasp and splutter, I think back to my childhood when we had precisely two choices – Chitrahaar on Thursday and the Sunday evening Hindi film on Doordarshan. And I’m grateful to be drowning.