With OTT platforms rapidly diversifying their content catalogue, genre enthusiasts are the priority

Genre content is about so much more than a loose set of interconnected tropes and visuals — it’s a way of engaging with the world on your own terms.

Aditya Mani Jha September 08, 2020 14:39:29 IST
With OTT platforms rapidly diversifying their content catalogue, genre enthusiasts are the priority

Earlier this month, Netflix confirmed that it was testing a ‘Shuffle Play’ button for some users. This feature randomly selects something for you to watch, drawing from what the algorithm already knows about your viewing preferences. There are, of course, a number of interesting things about this decision but the one that struck me immediately was this — Netflix now believes it’s well-placed to cater to any user, irrespective of who they are or how arcane or unconventional their tastes might be.

For obvious reasons, large-scale streaming platforms have tried to diversify their catalogue as much as possible, covering a large number of distinct genres. Because of this, it is now entirely plausible that if you are, say, terribly fond of martial arts movies, you can spend literally all of your viewing time watching that one genre, across several platforms (and increasingly, this is proving to be the case even for genres much less prolific than this one).

Basically, genre enthusiasts never had it so good.

Consider the Indian OTT landscape at the moment — and conversely, what the Indian film/TV industries were like not too long ago. If you were an Indian viewer circa 2013, you had very few options when it came to genres like supernatural thriller or heist movie or, to cite a now-ubiquitous streaming genre, the ‘Indian small-town crime drama’. And TV, of course, was significantly worse than Bollywood. More importantly, certain overdone genres had a chokehold over both of these industries (the cop/spy movie, the K-serial template, talent reality shows and so on), which meant that we were all being force-fed the same old crap.

I say ‘force-fed’ especially for Indian cinema (TV still has remote controls with no Shuffle Play buttons), because multiplexes are a zero sum game for filmmakers; if your film receives the worst timings and the worst screens, it’s usually because someone richer and considerably more powerful has been given the best screens and the best timings. When I watched the excellent Margarita With a Straw a few years ago at a New Delhi PVR, for example, we had to beg the owner to start the show despite there being just 4 of us in the hall (in typically Delhi fashion, the gambit only worked when a 5th, visibly super-rich uncle entered the fray and made a royally dismissive phone call to someone). Genre content proliferation has helped creators at least as much as viewers — projects that would, until a few years ago, be dismissed as too niche, are increasingly being produced.

Today, even if you were to restrict yourself solely to Indian content, there are options for everybody. For fans of supernatural thrillers, there’s the miniseries Ghoul, the zombie gore-fest Betaal, even a zombie parody in the show Shaitan Haveli, not to mention more recent products like the film Bulbbul. The second season of Amazon Prime’s show Mirzapur is going to be released next month — Mirzapur is one of several examples of the ‘Indian small-town crime drama’ across OTT platforms (like Netflix’s Jamtara). There are, of course, the usual bells and whistles too — feel-good rom coms as far as the eye can see (Love Per Square Foot, Permanent Roommates or the inexplicably popular Little Things), cop/spy thrillers (Bard of Blood, The Family Man), serial killer shows (Breathe, Asur) and much else besides.

And internationally, the menu expands significantly. There are any number of ‘explainer’ documentary shows on the Internet now (like, well, Explained), for those who like to educate themselves constantly. There are South Korean shows like Mystic Pop-Up Bar that do not lend themselves to any kind of categorisation at all (‘dramedy’ is too facile and ‘slice-of-life’ is inadequate; ‘supernatural whimsy’, perhaps?). There’s also the wonderful idea of ‘slow TV’, borrowed from the Norwegian government’s broadcast of a seven-hour train journey in 2009 — now, thanks to Netflix, you can now watch variants of this concept (a cross-Europe bus trip, marathon knitting session by the fireplace, a beautiful salmon fishing afternoon in Canada and so on).

Genre is about so much more than a loose set of interconnected tropes and visuals — it’s a way of engaging with the world on your own terms. On some days, it’s first-degree wish fulfilment: you want to be a medieval warrior fighting demons, and so, you get to be exactly that. On others, it’s a far subtler beast — something like an Inherent Vice or closer home, a Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, ends up becoming both part of and commentary on a certain genre, expanding its reach as well as its ambition. We’re living in the middle of the streaming era’s first great peak, and genre proliferation has been one of the reasons why we’re here now.

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