Who doesn't love lists? It makes the idea of the infinite and growing number of movies, television series, and books less daunting. Add to this utility, the fact that that we can understand so much about one another from these lists – about the person who made it, and who uses it to make conscious decisions of what to watch and avoid.
Cameron Johnson, in charge of Product Innovation at Netflix had something similar in mind when, in February he announced the "Top 10" feature that is housed on your Netflix account. The idea was for Netflix users to know exactly what is popular in their respective countries. This list is updated everyday.
So what is India watching now (30 March)? And what does it say about the times we are in, with a pandemic roaring as we are all locked-in for the foreseeable future?
Perhaps we are moving towards our basest, primal instincts. Fifty Shades Freed has been on this list ever since it dropped on March 13. Similarly, I have a hunch that it is the poster of Addicted, with the leads in a shower that is getting people to click. (Or do we just like our thrillers, slightly provocative, but largely generic? Race 4 anyone?)
What's heartening is also seeing Sex Education on this list consistently, hands down one of the most entertaining, woke (without … you know screaming it out of rooftops) depictions of sex, sexuality, and love in our confounding times, where there is a flood of information, and an inability to discern right from wrong. If you look at it, it is as much a cry for sex education (Indian Government, are you listening?) as it for… lists.
These are odd times we are living in, it's true, where classical concerts, lectures on Indian art, film-making, ballet, yoga, and porn are all freely available, peddled, and celebrated. (Pornhub recently made all their "premium" content free worldwide until April 23. Cue mass jubilation on Twitter.) Any predictions on whether Fifty Shades Freed will go up or down the popularity ladder the coming weeks?
It is a testament to FRIENDS that it has been on this list from the very beginning, almost never losing its spot- that we choose to watch the same episodes, again and again instead of charging onto newer cinematic territories.
However dated or offensive some of these jokes might be, it is familiar and warm, and most people's first brush with the binge cycle. The laughter track cues our chuckles, exercising the muscles that make us smile- much needed now.
Ala Vaikunthapuramaloo too, with Allu Arjun, the insanely popular Telugu star has been on this list since it dropped. It is unsurprising that we effortlessly move towards the comforting, familiar faces of heroes who instill our faith in hopeful endings, a whistle and a chuckle along the way. It is the human condition. There's no art here to look for.
Perhaps, we believe, after this lock-down we are all going down to South Bombay for some crackling brun maska in lemongrass Parsi chai, overdoing nostalgia (Maska). The introverts plotting their descent into extrovertism? Taking cue from Imtiaz Ali's She, rediscovering one's sexuality, and kicking butt in agonizing self-awareness? The pretense of wokeness to spout in bar-conversations (Guilty), because we are definitely going to drop some #MeToo hot-takes on our (now frequent) bar-nights out? Or perhaps just a good-old thriller (Money Heist) to get the blood pumping, as we sit in the same position, slumping into our bed for hours, if not days on end.
I must note here that this Top 10 is by no means a reflection of how good a show or film is. The prerogative of popularity isn't quality but mass appeal. This is content that is being consumed voraciously, at a time when streaming is at an all-time-high, and for good reason. Now, whether or not we are proud of this list is something else altogether. For now, power through.