Despite their spotty performance at the box-office of late, films remain the best source of entertainment for us Indians. They aren’t perfect on logic, neither are the plots the most believable, yet that doesn't stop crores of Indians across generations from enjoying movies. However, before booking tickets for or renting out a particular movie, most of us look through reviews by our favoured critics. The convenience of smartphones and the well-packaged video format has made YouTube reviews the medium of choice rather than the written ones published in dailies and filmi magazines.
Critics who review Bollywood and pan-India films have a special subscriber base of their own. In this exciting yet ephemeral domain, Hindi critics are soaring rapidly over English and regional language YouTubers. For instance, top YouTuber Deeksha Sharma who hosts the channel FilmiIndian has a whopping 34.7 lakh subscribers, a base larger than any other Indian critic on the platform. Actor-turned-film critic Kamaal R Khan – famously known as KRK – is famous for his vitriolic and controversial statements, and has his own set of 11.7 lakh followers that regularly tune in to his channel for his unabashed take on the latest in Bollywood.
YouTuber and former journalist Gayatri Kolwankar was regularly posting film and TV reviews in Marathi on the channel Manoranjan Marathi Buzz, until she realised that the subscriber base had stagnated after an initial spurt while her Hindi-speaking counterparts enjoyed a steady growth. Says Kolkwankar, “Hindi is the language spoken all over India. South movies are also being dubbed in Hindi these days. Most people in Maharashtra, particularly in Mumbai don't restrict themselves to entertainment in any one language.” In fact, despite being from Maharashtra herself, most of her entertainment is originally made in other languages. Spanish show Money Heist and Korean thriller Squid Game are two examples. 22-year-old IT engineer Aman Dwivedi is a movie buff. He belongs to the upwardly mobile English-speaking crowd but prefers following Hindi critics online. “They have an easygoing style and crack jokes I can relate to. The English critics tend to mug up their lines. Some of them take themselves too seriously.”
Gen-Zer Badal Yadav runs BnfTV, which covers everything from Bollywood and pan-India movies, to Hollywood and web series. He says, “Consider the sheer scale of the Hindi speaking population. As per 2011 census, 43% of the population understand and speak Hindi which is more than four times the percentage of English speakers, so eventually review videos in Hindi are bound to get more views. Another factor is that more creators have started making reviews in Hindi, and those videos are being served to a more Hindi-speaking audience by YouTube, so the reach is growing. Now, more numbers doesn't necessarily reflect on the quality of reviews but that's on each individual to decide!”
Top critic Aamir Ansari has 3.2 lakh subscribers who enjoy his take on the latest movies, posters, teasers, trailers and songs. His channel was active as far back as 2015, considered the early creator days for this genre. He says the change has been gradual ever since respected scribes started leaving film journalism. “I grew up reading well-rounded and incisive reviews by veteran journalists like Rajeev Masand, Khalid Mohammed and Meena Iyer. However, most of the critics from that era have either left journalism altogether or ventured into filmmaking and production, leaving a void that the current lot has not been able to fill. Enter YouTube critics with their uncomplicated commentary, digestible content and friendly demeanour. Presenters in Hindi are the most popular because we are considered relatable for everyone, from the urban office goer to the small town dweller watching a video on his smartphone. We speak the lingo of the audience.”
Another reason for this trend is the global pandemic. The Covid era has made people smarter for their movie selection. “One big shift happened due to pandemic; audiences are no longer following stars with the passion and intensity they used to. People want to find out if a movie is worth watching or not before they go to theatres,” says Yadav. People have come face-to-face with cinema that they used to ignore, like films and shows in international and regional languages.
Going by the popularity of the pan-Indian wave of films, Hindi creators are bound to gain more success in the coming days.
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