While there is no alternative for enjoying a big spectacle unfold on the largest screen possible, the online streaming way is still the most preferred way for many to enjoy new releases from the comfort of their home.
Unleashing the limitless potential and power of the small screens, the streaming platforms have not only capitalized on the unsatiated hunger for the entertainment of a binge-watching generation but have also created many opportunities for filmmakers in recent times.
As the movie theatre business after re-opening is not very brisk, many films, big and small, continue to reach audiences through various online streaming models like SVOD, TVOD and AVOD while trying to adapt to the world of changing distribution mechanisms.
Utilizing its unique distribution strategy, Pepper Chicken by Ratan Sil Sarma which premiered recently in ShemarooMe tries to chart a new course for filmmakers of Assam. Made within a limited budget, this feature film made in Hindi by Assamese casts and crew is a success in itself as it has managed to create a fair place and price for itself in a market otherwise dominated by the heavyweights of Bollywood.
In a surprising mix of genre, a survival thriller which ends as a whodunit, Pepper Chicken is the story of one fateful night when radio jockey, Vaidehi, takes on a journey home for her proposed wedding the next day but halfway through the journey, the quietly charming driver, Dashamesh, starts unveiling sinister motives.
Pepper Chicken is not the most unique dish in the platter but it scores a clever goal for genre filmmaking. Neither too self-serious nor too self-aware but slick and nasty, it stays true to its roots.
But it has its shortcomings in trying to stretch itself as a psycho-thriller at its mid-length. While it fails to set our heart rates go through the roof, the delirious act of Boloram Das with shades of its own, definitely keeps us hooked.
However, with more uncontrolled allotments, his performance, which now appears grounded to some limits, could have reached heights. Perhaps the strongest point of the film is the character work for Vaidehi where an unexpected twist comes along just at the right time.
This damsel in distress is not awaiting a prince to be her savior but instead thrives on emasculated men uncovering the film’s morally repugnant end in a style that seems to be inspired by The Usual Suspects. While not very high on reasoning, the satisfyingly unpleasant turns and the mythological parallels deserve some attention and brains to go with it.
Contrary to the popular belief that genre films cater only to a niche audience, Pepper Chicken did manage to grab many eyeballs. The upcoming Assamese productions can also materialize this strategy of Pepper Chicken to make the best use of the opportunity provided by the streaming platforms in these uncertain times.
Online streaming services are alien to problems like insufficiency of screening spaces and overpriced admissions into multiplexes that bother the producers and viewers respectively.
By hosting a pool of independent and regional cinema, they have also broken the monopoly of Bollywood releases carving out a deserving space for independent filmmakers and talented actors.
However, accused of trying to take over the cinema halls, the OTT (over-the-top) revolution can never re-create or compensate for the movie-going experience. There is also a class character of the streaming platforms as high-end devices; internet and subscription dues are a luxury for many. Along with the inherent issue of piracy, it limits the reach of entertainment to an urban and upper class.
It must be noted that while the language choices for Pepper Chicken worked in its favor to target pan Indian audiences, the same won’t stand true for every cinema made in regional languages. This is why possibilities of local streaming platforms hosting contents of Assam and the Northeast must be considered which can solve another concern of the unavailability of Assamese movies post their theatrical release.
As a few dedicated sites for streaming Assamese cinema have arrived and vanished, this unavailability of the movies post-release continues to be a worrisome factor for Assamese cinema.
It is believed that films like Pepper Chicken on ShemarooMe, Fireflies (Jonaki Porua) on Moviesaints and Arranged on Youtube after getting a healthy number of views and positive responses will set the ball rolling to fulfill the demands of time.
Kalpajyoti Bhuyan can be reached at [email protected]