The Free Press Journal and ABP Network on November 9 held The Bombay Debate with the topic ‘Does the rise of OTT platforms spell the doom for Bollywood? The debate was live on the Free Press Journal’s YouTube channel and ABP Live at 5.30 pm. Moderated by Roshan Abbas, the panellists included Go Goa Gone actor Kunal Kemmu, director-producer of films and shows like Sacred Games and Trapped, Vikramaditya Motwane, actor Sayani Gupta of Article-15 and the Emmy-nominated show Four More Shots Please!, actor and web show writer of Permanent Roommates and TVF Tripling, Sumeet Vyas, the director of the recently-released comedy, Lootcase, Rajesh Krishnan, film exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi, and producer and the founder of Platoon One Films, Shiladitya Bora whose movie SIR is one of the first to get a theatrical release post the lockdown. The judges for the debate were actor Poonam Dhillon, Prof Alok Rai, Vice Chancellor University of Lucknow, and Dinkar Gupta, IPS, DGP Punjab Police.
OTT has emerged as the new star in the last few months with the pandemic confining so many of us to our homes, and became our go-to source for entertainment. But can it be the death knell for Bollywood? And how are movie theatres going to fare in the new normal?
According to Kunal Kemmu, predicting the OTT to be the nemesis of Bollywood is going a bit too overboard. “May be we won't be having this conversation if it wasn't for the pandemic. But, to say that will it be the doom of something is like saying that will COVID-19 be the doom of the human race,” said the versatile actor.
“The best part about OTT is that you can watch it in your bathroom, bedroom, on the road- basically anywhere. I think OTT is a massive boon for both the audience and the film maker,” said Vikramaditya Motwane, highlighting the accessibility that the medium provides to us. But Kemmu pointed out that the experience of watching a movie on a big screen is parallel to none and as long as there are movies, movie theatres will remain in business. “As far as the theatre viewing experience goes, I would not have wanted to be an actor if it would not have been for the romance of the big screen,” said Kemmu. “We all love the movie theatre way too much, as makers and as audiences, for us to completely abandon it,” agreed Motwane.
Sayani Gupta said: “The joy of watching films on the big screen is special, and is never going to go away. The advent of OTT is special and has broken many moulds; it has made the whole system more democratic. Now you don’t have to wait for that one opening weekend and also it gives people a chance to experiment with storytelling, which is something only OTT has made possible.”
To this, Sumeet Vyas added: “If you have a different kind of story, now you don’t have to worry that people won’t watch it, thanks to OTT.” However, all agreed that it is difficult to make such sweeping statement on whether OTT is the doom of Bollywood.
“OTT is not cannibalising the theatrical experience, it is only complementing in some ways,” said film exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi. “When Television came out, people thought it was the death of radio but radio never died,” added Vyas.
Film producer and distributer, Shiladitya Bora pointed out: “Every film is different and has to be taken case by case basis. I believe that both the things have its pros and cons. There cannot be one standard solution for this. Every film has to be evaluated on a case to case basis.”
Ad filmmaker Rajesh Krishnan spoke about how we were already seeing the merging of Bollywood and OTT, pointing out how it was important to realise that every feature film ends up on OTT, but the reverse is not true. He added: “As a kid when i was growing up, I saw a lot of films in the theatres, so I am biased towards that medium. But coming to questions of whether these two platforms will merge, we are already seeing the merging of OTT and Bollywood. We can have content which is intelligent and at the same time appeal to people, so we are heading towards that sweet spot.”
Post the intense debate, actor Poonam Dhillon, who was part of the Jury said: “I come from a time when there was segregation between art and commercial films and a similar thing is happening now. The audience is much more educated and has seen all kinds of performances like world cinema. The audience is prepared for good and intelligent movies.”
Prof Alok Rai opined that he would have preferred if the panellists had been less politically correct and spoken more from the heart, while Dinkar Gupta put it all in a nutshell, when he said, “OTT gives more of a choice to everyone, but I feel both Bollywood and OTT will coexist.”
Moderator Roshan Abbas made sure the charm of an old-school, civilised debate is maintained and put forward enough questions and statistics and proved that facts can be more fun than fiction and debate need not be a circus.