The most exciting screen experience of the last 12 months has been Pratik Gandhi, which most of India had not heard of before OTT gave us “Scam 1992”. And if you’re interested in Bollywood, your most embarrassing experience in roughly the same period would be a tie between watching “Radhe” and “Laxmii”, respectively, with the industry’s biggest superstars, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar.
Over the past year, much has changed for star status in the Hindi entertainment industry. The only instances where B-Town stars came up with news were when they posted photos or videos on Instagram (mostly while on vacation in the Maldives or were grown into Covid). The odd set of stars took it upon themselves to tweet about the importance of wearing a mask, and almost everyone alternately used social media to carp about how much they longed to go back to a movie set.
With movie theaters closed and the stream of movie releases stunt, it’s expensive PR machines that have driven the Bollywood star for years are fast running out of ideas to keep the spotlight educated on their high-profile customers. The public is losing interest.
Rather, the spotlight in showbiz, as we traditionally know it, has been hijacked by two different races of artists on two very different platforms.
The first is OTT, which has become a playground for a set of actors who have lived in the shadow of our superstars for a long time. Traced by the emergence of streaming culture, these actors have found room to shine. These are artists who do not adhere to image specifications – many of them do not even hire the service of publishers – but have managed to build a fan base by showcasing the kind of versatility that narrowed-down Bollywood writing has almost never made possible for them. From Manoj Bajpayee to Pankaj Tripathi, from Shefali Shah to Rasika Dugal, the list of such actors has grown impressively in the digital domain since last year.
Clearly, it’s a good time to be an actor at OTT, for the only way to fame in the digital space is by flaunting acting and the courage to take risks with roles and topics. Suddenly, Vikrant Massey’s low-key act as the complex protagonist of “Haseen Dillruba” creates more interest than Salman Khan managed with his one-dimensional machoman in “Radhe,” which was hyped for several months before release.
OTT is currently working on the new definition of star status. Content-driven performance is the brand new route to becoming the entertainment industry’s news producers thanks to the influence that the emergence of streaming culture has heralded.
There are also another bunch of showbiz personalities who hijack the thunder from the Bollywood star and create a direct bulge in old-school film glamor. These are artists who belong to the world of music videos.
Suddenly, music videos are popular topics. From the moment they were announced to the moment they actually evolve on YouTube, the reaction on social media to non-movie tracks over the last year has marked a cultural shift in what defines popular music in India.
For decades, singers played second fiddle to mighty movie stars, and their greatest honor lay in scoring play hits for the faces synchronized on screen. With the music video culture, the scene has changed. Arijit Singh, Armaan Malik, Jubin Nautiyal, Shreya Ghoshal and Neha Kakkar perform a generation of singers who are stars in their own work.
It is simple. Pandemic or no pandemic, Indians need their quota of entertainment to keep getting in. At a time when plastic superstardom has been locked out of the glitter screen, the mobile phone or laptop screen needs to be fed with what in India is commonly known as ‘timepass’ things and cases.
As it is, Hindi movies had started to go slow on music over the last few years, and whatever quickfix soundtracks appeared knocked on insane remixes. An ever-emerging music industry was looking to find an outlet. With the pandemic restricting movement, YouTube emerged as the nation’s largest music hall.
New age singers, composers, lyricists and music video producers closed in. Suddenly, every non-movie song told a movie story about love, hate, friendship, campus bolt, teenage anxiety, even pop patriotism.
Music videos have effectively emerged as ‘cinema in a capsule’ and satisfy Bollywood fans ’demands for a mix of celluloid drama and melody.
An important reason why new age non-movie music has managed to keep audiences aware of the absence of Bollywood stars is that most music videos contain names that have a clear tab base due to stints on TV or reality TV.
Sidharth Shukla, Shehnaaz Gill, Himanshi Khurana, Asim Riaz, Paras Chhabra, Nikki Tamboli have been among the best draws in music videos in recent months. By chance, they are all “Bigg Boss” sensations from the same season. Unlike previous seasons of the show – or any other reality show – they represent a new breed of small-screen stars who have learned the trick of raising their game to match Bollywood’s big screen.
How does a Sidharth Shukla manage to rob a Salman Khan thunder? (Sidharth won season 13 of “Bigg Boss”, Salman’s signature). Or how does a Pankaj Tripathi become a popular topic compared to an Akshay Kumar? (Tripathi starring “Mirzapur” season two released just under two weeks ahead of Akshay’s “Laxmii”).
Lockdown-induced closure of the cinema business answers both questions. The Bollywood star is nothing without his two crutches – the big screen that appropriately magnifies heroism and film drama for the real effect; and smart marketing, which makes the psyche of the audience innocent of such influence. An Instagram splash here or a Twitter sermon that seems too small to leave any mark on the smaller screens of cell phones or laptops where only fabric will leave a lasting impression.
Of course, substance has never been a prerequisite for the Bollywood superstars over the decades.
–VED VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY