Are OTT channels star struck?

Are OTT channels star struck?

Many in the industry, like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, say streaming platforms are banking heavily on big names and neglecting fresh talent

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, with his impeccable performance in the hit web series ‘Sacred Games’, is one of India’s earliest OTT superstars. His surprise decision to quit OTT platforms has sparked a huge debate about where the medium is heading.

“OTT has become dumping ground for redundant shows. We have shows that don’t deserve to be made or sequels that have nothing more to say,” the versatile actor had recently said in a ‘Bollywood Hungama’ interview.

He believes it has become a ‘dhandha’ (racket) for big production houses and actors to palm off poor quality to streaming platforms. “Major film producers in Bollywood have cut lucrative deals with all the players in OTT.
When I can’t bear to watch these poor shows, how can I be in them?” he said.

It’is not clear how an actor can quit the OTT entirely, since most of the noteworthy theatrical releases sign deals with popular streaming sites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Zee5 and Disney+Hotstar. Yet Nawazuddin’s outburst points out how big players are dominating content creation in this space.

The likes of Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment (‘Guilty’, ‘Fabulous Lives of Bollywood’ and the recent ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’), Excel Entertainment (‘Toofan’), T Series (‘Haseen Dillruba’), Red Chillies
Entertainment (‘Class of 83’), and ‘Maddock Films’ (‘Mimi’) have produced films and shows that lack substance.

There are exceptions such as Anushka Sharma’s ‘Bulbbul’, ‘AK vs AK’, Balaji Motion’s ‘Pagglait’ and T Series’ ‘Sherni’ but they aren’t enough, considering the rapid rise in the number of the OTT platforms. On the flip side, small gems such as ‘Scam 1992’, ‘Sir’, and ‘Eeb Allay Ooo!’ were better received than films from marquee teams.

Corporate intervention

Filmmaker Pawan Kumar, who was the first to break into the OTT space from Kannada, said the problem lies in who calls the shots. “People deciding the nature of content in these companies look at art with a corporate mindset. They adopt a data-driven approach and suggest too many changes to the story, and the film suffers in the end,” he told Showtime.

“These people have neither engaged with the audience nor do they know about the nuances of art,” he says. Another reason why OTT prefers big players is because it wants more subscribers, he said.    

OTT going the theatre route

Jeo Baby proved that content is king with ‘Great Indian Kitchen’ but that hasn’t resulted in a big change in the Malayalam industry, he says. A case in point is that Mohanlal's four upcoming films have struck direct-to-OTT deals.  

“Just like distributors who want big theatrical releases, OTT platforms are focusing on big stars. New talents are struggling to explore the OTT market. Yes, the likes of ‘Great Indian Kitchen’ and ‘Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam’ are doing well and that is a small step in the right direction,” he says.

Niche to mega

Harish Mallya, consulting curator for the Bangalore International Film Festival, says this transition was inevitable. “Earlier, streaming sites were interested in movies that did well in the festival circuit. Once the pandemic set in, producers began looking at OTT releases as an option,” he observes. The stiff competition between platforms force them to go after the big brands, he says.

Struggles of indie films

Tamil filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, who made the hard-hitting, independent film ‘Madathy’, says she isn’t in a race to showcase her films on popular OTT platforms.

“Big OTT sites have changed their policies after the pandemic. Smaller and unknown platforms help indie filmmakers but the money isn’t as good as it should be. With small OTT channels, there is also a risk of piracy and technical glitches,” she says.

MUBI is an exception among smaller OTTs as it has carved a niche for itself by consistently streaming world-class content from indie filmmakers.