Will Streaming Movies Reshape Our Idea Of Stardom?

Streaming movies on your mobile, laptop could reshape our idea of stardom, and how we perceive cinema in a lot of ways. And no one knows how it’s going to evolve in near future.

More than five months after the Telugu film industry came to a halt due to Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, several producers and filmmakers have reportedly agreed to release their films on streaming sites. So far, a select few films like Krishna And His Leela, Bhanumathi Ramakrishna, and Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya have released on Netflix and Aha, and rumours are abuzz that films like V, Good Luck Sakhi, Miss India, and a few others could follow the same route in the next few weeks. 

With Covid-19 positive cases continuing to rise, it’s going to take a lot more time for cinema halls to open, and no matter how hard multiplex giants like PVR and INOX assure viewers that all will be well soon, no one knows what’s going to happen in the near future. Little wonder that several films are being released on streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Hotstar, Aha, and Zee5 to name a few. A lot of people, at least on the internet, are happy that there’s more options to choose from, and with more Telugu films getting a direct OTT release, some of them will, perhaps, find a bigger audience than they would have had they released in theatres. Now, all this is something which people on both sides of the aisle, within and outside the Telugu film industry, know and acknowledge. But here’s where things are going to get interesting – If the status quo continues for more time, it might very well reshape our idea of stardom, and a different hierarchy could emerge in the near future. This is just a hunch, but I can’t stop thinking about how this trend might impact Telugu cinema and the discourse surrounding it.

Are Movies Made Or Designed?

In the past few years, I’ve often heard writers and directors use the term ‘design scenes’ while talking about their work. They might be using ‘design’ as a synonym for ‘write’, but it throws light at something that’s quite obvious in our cinema. We ‘design’ sequences in a certain way to project a star’s larger-than-life image on the big screen. Even the shots are ‘designed’ for a specific effect. Every time you see a low-angle shot, it’s meant to project them as a hero/messiah/God in the story. The slo-mo shot is meant to accentuate their swag or a ‘money shot’ in the film. It’s all part of the grammar that commercial movies follow, and those who have mastered it, have used it to great effect to accentuate drama on big screen. It’s the kind of stuff which makes people whistle in cinema halls. 

The success of each film acts as a building block to write a new chapter in a star’s career. And all this makes sense when you watch a film in a cinema hall, where the size of the screen, and the actors on it, is much much larger than you. When you think about it, it’s meant to create a sense of wonder, the same way a devotee feels while looking at an idol or the sky. 

So far, films have had a theatrical release first, before they landed on streaming sites and then on TV. And this chain kept the stardom intact, because films of a top star/director fetch a higher price. At times, people working in the TV industry will tell you that certain films, which are blockbusters at the theatrical window, might not work on TV because it caters to a different set of viewers and demographics. And the opposite could be true too. There have been instances where some films have had a better run on TV than in cinema halls. 

With the rise of OTTs as the most preferred platform to release a movie, a lot of these aforementioned are bound to change. And a lot of it has to do with how we watch movies on smaller screens. 

Play. Pause. Rewind

When you watch a movie in a cinema hall, you are, perhaps, a tad more engaged with the medium. Since you’ve to pay for your ticket each time, you give, (or at least try to) your undivided attention to the film. You feel happy when the story/storytelling meets your expectations and disappointed when it turns out to be bad. That’s hardly the case with streaming those movies, because you’ve the option to pause, rewind, fast forward.

By giving you more options to watch movies the way you want them to, streaming movies alters the equation between the viewer and storytelling. If you get bored, you skip the film or the episode and move on to something else. You don’t want to waste your time and for a lot of people, it doesn’t matter who’s part of those films. You don’t give it too much of a thought. And that’s a dramatic shift from how things unfold otherwise.

Earlier, there was a sense of anticipation before watching a film. You become part of the chain of events before a film’s release (i.e – sharing trailers/posters). The news cycle continues for days and at times weeks altogether to keep the film relevant. Compare all this to a film on a streaming site. Except for the ones which have captivated a huge section of people, most films are just there on these sites. 

More Choices. More Competition

In a market which is dictated by how many screens a film will release in, depending on the hype and the star power of the cast/crew, everyone wants to see that one big film. In fact, theatre chains and producers make us want to watch that one film. But the moment it comes to the streaming sites, the tables are turned. Even a big film has to compete with hundreds of other films from all over the world to grab attention from the viewers. A new film, thanks to the hype surrounding it and the marketing push, will be in the ‘trending’ section for sometime, but even this can’t be guaranteed. In such a scenario, how does a film stand out? Is it dependent on the story or the stars in it? What does stardom mean in an era like this where online trends, aided by tech, deviate significantly from offline reality? 

And just because a film is on a streaming site doesn’t make it easily accessible for everyone. The membership for each streaming site varies from Rs 300 (per year) to almost Rs 650 (per month), and the number of people actively using such sites is, so far, significantly less than the number of people who go to watch movies in cinema halls. All this would have changed in the past few months, because of Covid-19, but who knows what might happen in near future. 

The Idea Of Stardom

That brings us back to a fundamental question – Will the act of streaming movies on your mobile devices/laptops change our idea of stardom? Perhaps, it’s too early to say anything as far as Telugu film industry is concerned since things are still in a nascent stage. Content creators are still trying to figure out what works and what will be ignored by people. But one thing is certain – the storytelling is going to differ vastly from what we are used to. The low-angle shot, or even the itch to make everything look grand, which works well for big screens, might change. We could, perhaps, even see more close-ups of actors because that works better for smaller screens. Since streaming movies breaks the whole idea of cinema being a shared-experience, even the jokes and the whistle-worthy moments, that reverberate in cinema halls, will feel different while watching them on smaller screens. There could even be a new set of actors who work grabs more eyeballs on the internet than cinema halls. Perhaps, it won’t even matter who the actor is as long as the story is engaging…who knows what a viewer’s mood is going to be like at that moment!

Think about this…why is it that Netflix is filled with so many crime dramas? Sure, our obsession with the likes of Narcos, Mindhunter etc proved that there’s a strong appetite to watch many more such shows. But crime drama, as a genre itself, is well-suited for a binge-watching session. Then, there’s a subset of feel-good dramas which have found a safe haven on such streaming sites. 

In the past few years, the streaming sites have helped films and Tv shows find a wider audience, cutting across regional and cultural barriers (thanks to subtitles). The question is, if we are ready to share our stories with the rest of the world and understand what will appeal to people who don’t necessarily know our history and stardom. 

About crhemanth

Hemanth Kumar C R , is a Hyderabad-based journalist and he writes about Telugu cinema, TV shows, and his work has appeared in publications like Firstpost.com, TheNewsMinute.com, SilverScreenIndia, New Indian Express, Film Companion. 845show.com is his new blog. You can reach out to him on Twitter @crhemanth or email him at hemanth[dot]cr[at]gmail[dot]com

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