Bollywood 2020: Pandemic, lives lost & the rise of OTT

Looking back at the Hindi film industry


December 22, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Bollywood 2020: Pandemic, lives lost & the rise of OTT

OTT has emerged as one of the biggest players this year

Despite a lack of new releases and without airport looks, gym looks and red-carpet events to fall back on, OTT kept people entertained.

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“Compared to the cataclysmic events of 2020, happenings in Bollywood read like trivial crumbs. Yet, 2020 has been equally harsh on the entertainment world,” a Delhi-based film critic, Anupam Kant, tells Media India Group.

Kant talks about how the year started on a promising note with Om Raut’s Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, in January, Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad, starring Taapsee Pannu, gaining critical acclaims in February and Ayushmann Khurrana, Gajrao Rao and Neena Gupta offered some laughs mixed with a social message in the comedy Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.

Kant further says that the Hindi film industry quickly took a tragic turn with theatres shut, deaths of prominent personalities and the final strands of its sheen wore off with the alleged involvement in drug cases.

As the unprecedented lockdown kept getting extended, audiences turned to OTT for entertainment. From small budget web series to big-budget films, all released on different streaming platforms.

Theatres’ loss, OTTs’ gain

OTT has emerged as one of the biggest players this year. Armed with a solid line-up of shows, from feel-good themes like The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives to period dramas like A Suitable Boy or crime epics such as Mirzapur II and Paatal Lok, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus Hotstar, SonyLiv, ZEE5 and Voot have been involved in a ferocious streaming war, building up their film catalogues to attract more eyeballs. Earlier this year, Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo set the tone when it released on Amazon Prime Video.

Later in the year, many more films followed and made OTT their home. Sharan Sharma’s Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl featuring Janhvi Kapoor, Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men,  Raghava Lawrence’s Laxmii and Anurag Basu’s Ludo.

The losses and the tragedy

Irrfan Khan, a glocal icon & one of the most critically acclaimed actor in Bollywood, succumbed to cancer on April 29

Not only did it lose the screen war in 2020, but Bollywood also lost several of its gems. Irrfan Khan, a glocal icon and one of the most critically acclaimed actor in Bollywood, succumbed to cancer on April 29th and the superstar of the bygone days, Rishi Kapoor, the next day on April 30th. While the country, including the film industry, was still mourning these losses, choreographer Saroj Khan passed away on July 3rd, bringing to an end the era of freestyle dance in Bollywood.

However, the Kai Po Che! star Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide on June 14 devastated fans. The news shocked the industry as Rajput, 34, not only had given back to back hits on the box office in recent past but also had a number of upcoming films in 2020.

The media circus and drug cases

A media circus erupted on nightly newshour and social media to “get him justice”. Conspiracy theorists claimed Bollywood had killed Rajput, while Bollywood screamed it was being victimised. “It’s a dirty picture,” cried one online headline. And as the story developed and newer details emerged, the media, politicians and public were in a free fall, scrambling to advance their own speculations. As the frenzy grew around his mysterious death, the case quickly turned into a national obsession, thanks to a malicious campaign by mainstream media.

Dil Bechara released posthumously at a time when sentiments were palpably running high. It passed between his devoted fan base as an act of remembrance. The movie, based on John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, paired with the real-life tragedy of its leading man’s suicide turned an average tearjerker into an epic requiem.

Moving ahead

As filmmakers, actors and others associated with the film industry get back to work under the new normal conditions, it is not only the pandemic that has threatened the core of the film industry. Film as a space for creative expression and the film industry as a melting pot for people of diverse origins, social orientations and religious and political faiths, at this time stands very seriously accosted. Creative endeavours are faced with the possibility of a gradual toeing of lines set by the powers that be in the face of periodic moralistic upsurges and backlashes, as had happened in the case of the film Padmaavat (2018), and are increasingly prevalent now.

“Beyond any great love that Indians may have or may not have for Bollywood cinema, we must now watch to see if this industry plays out its full potential to resist undemocratic incursions, and if, in the longer term, it is able to hold forth as a bastion of variance and diversity,” says Kant.

As a new year approaches, film shoots have resumed and so have cinema theatres. While big-budget films like Akshay Kumar starrer Laxmii or upcoming film AK vs AK, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and starring Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap continues to prefer OTT over theatrical releases, films like Abir Sengupta’s Indu ki Jawani has fallen flat after a theatrical release. It will be interesting to watch if Bollywood on OTT is a temporary phenomenon or is here to stay in 2021 and beyond.



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