Pundits on Borrowed Accounts – OTT and the movie going experience in the Pandemic

Pundits on Borrowed Accounts – OTT and the movie going experience in the Pandemic

Cinema- a medium, a space, and an experience 

From the surrounding speakers and the - large screen, cinema has been brought closer to us on our overheated laptops and compact screens. The beginning of the Pandemic has changed the idea of accessing entertainment. The activity of watching cinema has taken a digital turn over the last two years.
I was never a big movie-goer. I would only go to watch films that I knew would be more visually impactful in a cinema hall- Marvel movies, usually. A snack-fuelled Marvel Marathon will never come close to the tears shed by the audience as we all watched Iron-Man snap his fingers in the closing scenes of “Avengers: Endgame”.

Pundits on Borrowed Accounts – OTT and the movie going experience in the Pandemic

Avengers: Endgame. Picture Credit: Disney+Hotstar

The collective gasp at the unexpected twist in Sujoy Ghosh’s “Kahaani” or the cheers for the winning shot in “Lagaan”, all those moments made me feel like I was a part of this group of people who related to the character in the same way that I did. The experience of being in a theatre, tethered by one happy ending is the microcosm of a community. So in that same vein, the cinema hall became a space for community, no matter how loose and temporary the collective may be. 

Cinema as a medium to me equals a certain amount of intellectual access. Films have the ability to show you the story, the lesson, the mystery, and the love that books can prompt you to imagine. This isn’t to argue that one medium of story depiction is better than the other. Films can be enjoyed quite simply, which makes them such a popular and widely accessed form of entertainment and story-telling.

Even when I was unable to afford fancy seats or popcorn, I have watched enough films on the balcony seats of halls, which were much cheaper and didn’t feel like a burdensome expense to me. I have enjoyed the  Burn The Stage documentary as a fan of Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS) in luxury seats and I’ve also guffawed loudly at Welcome in balcony seats with a bag of Lay’s chips.

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I understand that going to watch a film isn’t something that everyone can include as a harmless expenditure. Even though cinema can make us forget the real world for a few hours, it’ll be ignorant on my part to not consider that inadequate wealth distribution continues to exist even after the happy ending. 

So this brings me to my question: Has the Pandemic’s Digital Wave made cinema more accessible?

A few popular OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Mubi, Voot, etc. have brought international films, regional films, and even niche films to anyone who has an account. From my experience, it’s usually one account that is shared with family and friends. I myself use a borrowed Netflix account and have given my Amazon Prime account details to my friends. It’s a common practice, and as long as the Watch History is not fiddled with, everyone has a good time.

Netflix brings several arthouse films, documentaries, and international indie films which I wouldn’t be able to watch or know about otherwise. Amazon Prime and Voot have been praised for their gritty and gripping Originals which have made a wave in the Hindi Film Industry as well. Well-known actors are readily coming on board for series that have been strictly made for OTTs. The viewership is increasingly shifting to the conveniences and options of subscription-based platforms. This brings up two questions- how much can we expand the reach of OTT platforms and what happens to the conventional movie-going experience?

I’m not just looking at convenience and comfort. I’m also inviting you to consider how repeated watching can sharpen our understanding of the nuances and layers of a film. The acting performances, camera-work, tones and colours, post-production, editing, and other technical aspects that go into making a film can be observed much better when you can rewatch a film at your convenience.

I would go as far as to say a well-made and sincere film can qualify as a legitimate academic reference depending on the subject. As someone who is an actor and a writer for short films, I look for ways to hone my craft and expand my skill-set in the realm of film-making. If I can capture the earnest gaze of Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name or the acrid wit of the dialogues in “Gangs of Wasseypur”, the day-long binges would prove to be somewhat productive.

All this to say, even if you’re a student with no allowance to spend, you can still watch niche films like Ruben Brandt: The Collector or Midsommar.

Pundits on Borrowed Accounts – OTT and the movie going experience in the Pandemic

Poser Credits- Impawards.com

It may seem insignificant but watching these films allows you to be a part of the discourse around them. With the film’s context already available to me, I’m able to not only learn something new but also open up a film lover’s circle to my opinion. One can argue that this may be a shallow reason to watch films, but aren’t we all looking for ways to connect with like-minded people? If having access to the general discourse around films and shows means that I get to step into a circle of cinephiles, why not stream it?

In conclusion, there’s a certain democracy in the digitalization of cinema.  I think the tailor-made subscription packages, and a variety that even the pickiest folks will enjoy, make a solid case for OTT’splace in cinema. However, will there always be an undeniable pleasure in the activity of ‘going to the cinema’ that could never be replicated by the digital? 
I reckon I should book tickets for a film and find out…

Shreeparna Chatterjee – A writer and a poet, trying to challenge the inexplicable to put into her words. Academically trained in Psychology and Creative Writing, Shreeparna finds comfort in poetry and music and hopes to be a published author one day. Blog and Socials - https://swordsandbandages.blogspot.com/  https://www.instagram.com/bootleglover/

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