Social Dramas Shift From Theatres To OTT Space

A rundown of how gritty stories are of late being made more for the OTT platforms, both as films and web series.
Published in: Southfirst

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes in the film industry. The uncertainty of what works and what doesn’t work on the big screen has grown bigger than before.

The demand seems to be more for larger-than-life entertainment — whether it is Pushpa: The Rise (2021), RRR (2022), Pathaan (2022), Jawan (2023), or Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023).

Sure, there are also the likes of Vikrant Massey’s 12th Fail (2023), which sprung a huge surprise. But many films which did well since COVID-19 are full of action and heroism.

Of course, movies with messages when mixed with entertainment — social dramas — do reach more audiences.

For example, in Shah Rukh Khan’s Jawan, director Atlee touched upon some pressing grassroots issues like poor facilities in government hospitals and farmer suicides among others.

In Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani — a mainstream love story, director Karan Johar made some important points on inclusivity, the side effects of toxic masculinity, etc.

However, commercial trappings don’t always gel with issue-based films. For example, take Bheed (2023). It was mainly a story about the mass migration of workers during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Director Anubhav Sinha chose to insert a love story which didn’t gel in the overall tonality of Bheed. It was the commercial elements like these that hampered the film in a big way.

Now, let us look at the social dramas streaming on the OTT platforms:

OTT space sees influx of social dramas

After the advent of OTT, many social issues have come to light on screen.

For example, Manoj Bajpayee’s Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai (2023) was a legal drama based on the trial of Asaram Bapu who raped a minor. This movie garnered a lot of acclaim for the realistic portrayal of the courtroom along with Manoj Bajpayee’s performance.

Pankaj Tripathi’s Kaagaz (2021) was about the struggle of a farmer who was declared dead in official papers. This social drama got decent reviews with particular praise for Pankaj Tripathi’s performance as a common man.

Vidya Balan’s Sherni (2021), again a social drama, dealt with the protection of wildlife which includes saving tigers.

Now, even the big production houses and stars have made a foray into OTT. I will start with King Khan.

Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies made a few films on some important topics — Love Hostel (2022), Darlings (2022), and Bhakshak (2024). Darlings is a co-production of Alia and Shah Rukh Khan.

Love Hostel

A poster of the series ‘Love Hostel’. (X)

Vikrant Massey and Sanya Malhotra’s Love Hostel was set amidst the background of families and Khap panchayats resorting to honour killings.

Sanya Malhotra played a Hindu girl named Jyothi in it, while Vikrant Massey played a Muslim named Ahmad. They stay in a protection home after marrying without the consent of their respective families, but this protection home does not guarantee their safety in any way.

Bobby Deol as Dagar is seen in the role of a ruthless mercenary who is hired to kill these young lovers.

Director Shankar Raman made this chilling film that questioned the self-appointed custodians of society.

The subject of Love Hostel isn’t particularly novel but what made this film click was the taut narration coupled with the trio of Vikrant Massey, Sanya Malhotra and Bobby Deol.

As the ruthless mercenary, Bobby evoked fear with just his demeanour. Dagar is someone who believes that his actions are necessary to keep the social fabric intact and the actor got the nuances of the character spot on.

Vikrant and Sanya as young lovers also made a striking impact; they aced the dialect apart from sharing a wonderful chemistry.

Bhakshak

‘Bhakshak’ on Netflix. (X)

Bhakshak, directed by Pulkit, was based on the real-life incidents of sexual abuse that happened in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur shelter home.

Bhumi Pednekar played the role of a small-time independent journalist who wants to bring out the reality of this shelter home.

In the recent past, the portrayal of journalists in movies has been quite objectionable. But here, the director did an authentic job of depicting journalism and journalists.

The scenes of sexual exploitation were also shown with the required sensitivity, never bordering on exaggeration.

Bhumi Pednekar aced her role as did Sanjay Mishra and Aditya Srivastava, among others.

Darlings

A poster of the film ‘Darlings’. (X)

Jasmeet K Reen’s Darlings is a dark comedy/thriller about two Muslim women; Alia Bhatt as Badrunissa—the daughter and Shefali Shah as Shamshunissa—the mother.

Badrunissa faces both physical and emotional abuse from her husband Hamza (a scary Vijay Varma) but is always hopeful that he will change.

Shefali Shah’s Shamshunissa is more practical as she already experienced abuse from her spouse.

Darlings does have tonal issues in the second half but for a debut director Jasmeet K Reen did a good job in showcasing the unequal power structure of marriage and also the usage of the bustling chawl (lower middle class colony) which became a character in itself.

After Darlings, Alia Bhatt co-produced Poacher, a web show on another important social issue, which is about the poaching of elephants.

Richie Mehta is the director. His follow-up to Delhi Crime works as both an investigative thriller and human drama. It makes the viewers do some serious soul-searching about the need for peaceful co-existence between man and nature.

The Railway Men

Stills from the series ‘The Railway Men’. (X)

Yash Raj Films is mostly known for producing big-scale entertainers. But, of late, it came up with a web show on a social issue — The Railway Men.

Of course, they have produced films like Chak De India (2007), Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009), etc. However, The Railway Men, produced by Aditya Chopra is a different entity altogether, as the series is based on the sensitive subject of the Bhopal gas tragedy.

Shiv Rawail made his debut as a writer cum director with this one. The debutant focused his lens on the little-known heroes of the Indian Railway who put their lives at stake to save thousands of people from the lethal gas.

The subject of The Railway Men is not an easy one to handle but Shiv Rawail showed a lot of maturity aided by some powerful performances from Kay Kay Menon and Babil Khan, among others.

More social dramas

Director-producer Karan Johar also sprang a pleasant surprise on the eve of Valentine’s Day with the docu-series Love Storiyaan (2024).

Love Storiyaan (2023) focused on real-life couples across age groups and states narrating their stories of resilience and strength. The narratives could have easily fit into a movie but he chose to do a docu-series.

Arjun Varain Singh’s Kho Gaye Hum Kahan (2023) is a friendship-based story on the loneliness of Gen Z in the digital era.

Zoya Akhtar also is a commercially successful director but she chose Kho Gaye Hum Kahan‘s story for the OTT space.

This increase in social issues in OTT platforms has its positives as more authentic presentation is possible. But at the same time, there is also the danger of theatrical experience being reduced to just larger-than-life entertainment stories.

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