Why the hell did we decide to build an AI recommendation system that rivals everything else in the market? It was because of the pandemic.
Digital viewing, including streaming, has grown exponentially in the last two years, and rightly so. Everyone cooped in their tiny homes found an escape through their screens. And the shows that were pure fantasy raked in highest eyeballs. Let’s dive deeper into the why of it all.
In our interview with Humans of Cinema’s editor and founder Harshit Bansal, we asked a similar question. Why do feel good films work so well in the pandemic? They are, what cinephiles or writers might label, “commercial or masala”. But the successful ones are here to entertain, nothing else. Sometimes, the point of cinema is to be an escape. Holding a mirror to society works only when the times are good. Take Bridgerton, for example. At its best, it is a story about love and family with impeccable production design and costumes. At its worse, it is a glammed-up saas-bahu drama that we have all grown tired of. Even then, both its seasons managed to blow the roof off conservating ratings. Why? Because people actually didn’t mind a domestic soap opera with really hot people. It was good to look at, nothing terrible ever happened and the characters spent hours interacting with each other for no reason at all. Everything we wanted but couldn’t do. Normal People had something to say, but it was yet a beautiful story about beautiful young people. It was about high school crushes, the highs and lows of college life and falling in love with your soulmate. In a world where all you could do was text, a story that went beyond the stupid trappings of high school films was a welcome. An anomaly for sure.
What these shows did for streaming, No Time to Die did for the theatrical experience. Most of mainstream media had laughed it off. Its release date had been shifted 10 times. The other studio tentpole, Tenet, had failed miserably at the box office. But Bond changed the game. It was emotionally resonant, it didn’t delve deep into anything, and it had the perfect balance of action and drama. A movie, that doesn’t make you think how badly Rami Malek was wasted or if it is that easy to order a missile strike on an island with NATO and the UN watching, made almost $800 million that year. Go figure.
Maybe Paatal Lok is the only one on this list that took itself very seriously and managed to grab our dwindling attention. In a world full of khichdi, it was a spicy kebab. It started as a police procedural, with an assassination attempt case being handed to the loser cop archetype. But in the end, the original mystery didn’t matter. Nor did the twisted conspiracy that the series answered. The show is about how those in the higher echelons of power twist and disturb the system so that it works only for them. The final release is always cathartic. There is no victory down in the trenches. And for that reason, it is our top pick.
So what does this say of human behaviour? Do we gravitate towards simple, entertaining stories? Or do we prefer dark, serious, and ill-executed dramas? The answer lies somewhere in between. Of course, we prefer to escape reality and binge-watch a beautiful world like Bridgerton. But we have, as always, preferred stories told with conviction and passion. Paatal Lok is not exactly family friendly viewing, and neither is Normal People. But they worked. They were stories that had been deliberated before executing. For all those writers and creators who think the formula is making silly stuff, it’s not true. It is making sure you are not biased towards your own work. It is about involving people in your work to critique it. It is the ability to take criticism with a smile on your face. Maybe India will get there one day.