The year of gore – Leisure News


In the year of a global pandemic, the honour of the biggest release of 2020 belonged to a web series, season two of the Amazon Prime Video show, Mirzapur. With more politics and a marginally lower body count compared to season one, the crime drama, as per Amazon, was watched in over 180 countries within a week of its launch on October 23. Nearly half the viewers binge-watched the 10 episodes in just two days. The success of the series suggests that OTT audiences have a healthy appetite for gory, often gratuitous, violence and coarse language. These are now standard fare on all streaming platforms. So much so that if there was one common feature in many of the 2020 shows, it was how the protagonist, male or female, had easy access to a gun and used it for varied reasons, revenge, survival, justice.

MX Player’s Raktanchal, Ek Thi Begum, Bhaukaal, High and Aashram; Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur 2 and Paatal Lok; Voot Select’s Asur and Crackdown; SonyLIV’s Undekhi; Disney+ Hotstar’s Special Ops and Aarya; Eros Now’s Flesh; Netflix’s Betaal and She, all present a gritty, unflinching look at the dark side of India. So persistent is the influx of crime thrillers and dramas on OTT that it begs the question: has the audience lost its appetite for breezy romances or fun comedies? Gautam Talwar, chief content officer of the advertising-video-on-demand (AVOD) platform MX Player, believes crime is what its predominantly male audience (70:30 male to female), between the ages of 18 and 30, wants. “These shows are not available on TV, which is geared towards the woman of the house,” he says. “Yes, it is slightly skewed [towards crime], but there is a ‘need gap’ and OTT fills it extremely well.” However, it’s not like MX doesn’t endorse comedy at all. It streamed the Jitendra Kumar-starrer Cheesecake and also greenlit season two of Hey Prabhu! One reason, says Talwar, why there isn’t enough comedy is because good writing in the genre is hard to come by. “We also don’t like to laugh at ourselves. We like a Kapil Sharma show where I laugh at you,” he says. In the coming year, he adds, MX is planning a balancing act with lighter shows “from the Hindi heartland”.

The OTT audiences’ high propen­sity for edgy content is in stark contrast to that of films and television, where comedy and romance fare well. On streaming platforms, comedy is lar­gely available in the form of stand-up specials or YouTube sketches; sitcoms are few and far between. In 2020, one show that truly fit the genre was Panchayat, a slice-of-life social comedy produced by The Viral Fever which released on Amazon Prime Video in April and earned both popular and critical acclaim. Season two of Sumukhi Suresh’s Pushpavalli, another Prime show, delivered on laughs, but, by the end, its titular leading lady’s inclination to lie was so disconcerting that she was more of a ‘she devil’ than a funny woman.

For Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of the media consulting firm Ormax Media, the dominance of crime on web boils down to optics. “There is this perception that OTT is a dark platform since there is no censorship, so you can do bold, rough shows,” he says. The buzz earlier shows such as Sacred Games and Mirzapur generated also bred a “herd mentality”. Given that the OTT space, less than five years old, is still fairly new and growing exponentially with more platforms joining the fray, Kapoor believes change is inevitable. “There’s a realisation that there are those who don’t want to watch [crime] and, going forward, we will need more inclusive content,” he adds.

For the time being, there’s a gaping hole when it comes to shows with a more cheerful (and less bloody) disposition. In India, when they do come in the form of Little Things or Kota Factory, they break through the clutter. Made by Pocket Aces and The Viral Fever, respectively, the shows’ comprehensive look at micro worlds and detailed character studies have resonated with a young audience. “We started by creating the world we know best, which was urban, progressive and largely in English,” says Aditi Shrivastava, co-founder of Pocket Aces. Five years in the business, Pocket Aces has so far avoided the tendency to “go extreme”. Instead, the AVOD platform tackles subjects such as live-in relationships (Little Things) or workplace romances (Please Find Attached). The cleanliness of the content, says Shrivastava, is because a lot of it is “brand-funded, so you have to keep it nice”.

With Jio entering the mobile market and bringing a diverse range of users online, Pocket Aces has expanded its programming. “The mission which was more inward-driven has become a lot more audience-driven,” says Shrivastava. In addition to its online channels Dice Media and FilterCopy, the company recently launched Jambo, another online channel which targets the Hindi-speaking belt. Pocket Aces’ upcoming roster includes a caper about migrants in Mumbai, a political satire set in the hinterland and a detective show. “The gaze is always of a young adult because you don’t want to vacate your forte,” she says.

Both Shrivastava and Ormax’s Kapoor singled out Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (SonyLIV) as emblematic of how the audience is happy to embrace a new genre if presented with one. Produced by Applause Entertainment and directed by Hansal Mehta, Scam 1992 keeps financial jargon to a minimum to recount how the ambition of a middle-class man led to his downfall. “Our version of a financial story always ends up being ‘Raees khaandaan ka croron ka karobaar, aur ek lauta waaris [a business empire worth millions and a reluctant heir],” says Sameer Nair, CEO of Applause. “We made it more of a human drama.”

Even Applause, though, sees the appeal of a crime drama. The content studio has remade international shows such as Criminal Justice (UK), Hostages (Israel) and Your Honour (Israel) and has picked up the rights for two more in Fauda and Luther. “Crime and thrillers are loved genres because they transport us into a world removed from our ordinary lives,” says Nair. “But violence, use of blood and gore and foul language cannot become a formula.” For Nair, the lure of streaming lies in how “freeing” it is when compared to TV which has been dominated by soap operas and films where stars take precedence over ingenuity. “We are looking at new milieus to explore and do different stories,” he says. It’s why Applause recently announced that it will remake the French comedy Call My Agent!, which centres on the whims and tantrums of film stars and their hapless agents. Whether Applause succeeds in poking fun at Bollywood remains to be seen, but that it plans to go beyond the world of gun-toting men is innovative enough.


SCAM 1992: The Harshad Mehta

Story (2020) (SonyLiv)

Based on true events, the drama set against the backdrop of the Bombay stock market is a tale about a man who dreamt and dared and ultimately saw things fall apart

SACRED GAMES (Season 1) (2018) (Netflix)

Netflix’s first Indian original set the ball rolling for other platforms with its well-mounted account of the rise and fall of a gangster and the troubled inspector pursuing him


(Disney+ Hotstar)

The espionage thriller follows a dogged R&AW officer who spends close to two decades hunting down a terrorist mastermind


(Amazon Prime Video)

Manoj Bajpayee stars in this action-drama series which showed us that juggling the roles of a dutiful husband and parent, and a spy is no easy feat


(Season 2) (2020)Gritty Indian crime dramas on OTT platforms have found a huge audience, but are they likely to embrace lighter genres in the future?

(Amazon Prime)

Few shows have drawn such a legion of fans, inspired memes and made household names of principal characters (Kaleen Bhaiyya, Munna, Guddu)

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