Over the last year, directors Don Palathara's Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam, Mahesh Narayanan's Malik, actors Darshana Rajendran and Roshan Mathew's C U Soon and Aanum Pennum and Anna Ben's Sara's, were all released on different streaming platforms. A lot of discussion has surrounded the producers' and filmmakers' choice of releasing movies directly on such platforms. These actors and directors discuss the impact of the audience watching films on the 'small screen' has had on their craft, in this roundtable discussion with Baradwaj Rangan.
BR: Do you think the OTT space is also causing a certain kind of film to be made over others?
Mahesh: No, I don't think so. Let me explain this properly. Take a film like Jai Bhim, I think it is content that would work anywhere – theatrically or digitally. It would work because the emotional values are perfect in that. In the sense, it is catered for a certain kind of audience and it is made well, in that space. I feel it is more problematic to make films for the digital space. People are watching with their remote or a mouse in their hand. If they don't want to watch a particular sequence, they can skip it or forward it. If they don't understand something, they can pause it, go back, rewind and play. It's like reading a book where you can skip a few pages and then go back. I am in that zone where I am waiting for metaverse to come. Cinema is going to transform with it because it is the new world of the internet. This interactive cinema is going to change the entire viewing experience, aesthetic experience and movie-going culture. It is more like teleporting and I am just curious.
BR: Don, your film was recently released on Mubi. What is your reaction to this kind of movie-watching where one can pause and resume the next day? Are you happy that they watched the film or do you want people to see it the way you intended it to?
Don: For me, it isn't in the binary, whether I like it or not. I want people to sit in a theatre and watch a film. If your film is released on an OTT platform, ideally you would want people to watch it without pausing it. Especially when there are single takes or long takes. You don't want the audience to decide where to cut the film. But, you don't have that option either. You have to find that middle path. As an audience myself, I have watched most international films on my laptop too. For me, it's better that people watch the film than not. That's something I would prefer.
BR: For Roshan, Darshana and Anna, I am not going to name this 80s actor but he/she said, when I am giving my heart out, pulling out my soul and acting, I don't want it to be watched by people where somebody in the back is saying 'Hey get me another roti' or a doorbell is ringing. My soul would get crushed. Let's take one of Darshana's famous traumatized scenes. She is putting all that effort and a viewer is pausing it right there, in the middle of your trauma. What do you guys think about that?
Darshana: When we were doing theatre, people walk in and out of the theatre when you are performing on stage. I think a lot of actors have gone through this. You have worked 3 months on that scene but one person can just take away the audience's attention because they decided to leave. When I used to bring my friends for shows, I would tell them to turn off their phones and they better not leave! Having said that, I am happy that people will pause when I am crying and still come back and watch the whole scene. Friends of mine in Delhi are finally catching up with things I have done. Once they called me on a Zoom call where they screen-shared and watched a movie together. I said "please don't do that!" but then I was also very glad that they wanted to watch the films to begin with.
Anna: As actors, we really want the audience to watch and appreciate the hard work we are putting into it. But, the only thing we can do is request them. It's up to the audience how they want to watch films. I think for me personally, after the film is done, after I have done what I could, there is a level of detachment from the work. People can be the judge. How they want to watch it, what they want to say about it is upon them. I think that has kept my sanity intact. Otherwise, it would be very difficult. Not just for actors but even for directors and writers. I had discussions with my father where he said that when he writes a film, he might have a scene that he really loves but it might have been left out of the final film. So that sense of detachment is needed. This is how I look at it.
Roshan: I still don't have that level of detachment that Anna speaks about. I would love to because it does hurt. It is so valuable to you. But the logical part of my brain is still grateful that there is an audience watching these films in the first place. We only exist, our work only exists, because someone is watching it. I am still struggling to believe that I get to do movies, work with people I find inspiring. But it still does hurt a little bit!