Here comes the gamechanger. On Wednesday afternoon, Amazon Prime Video rolled out across 200 countries — including India — and, before we knew it, many of us we were already signed up. If you subscribe to Amazon’s Prime delivery service, a feature that gets you free priority shipping for Amazon orders, then you automatically have Prime Video. Even if you aren’t an existing Prime member, the price is too ridiculously low to not subscribe.
Amazon charges Rs 499 a year. Compare that to Netflix’s middle-rung at Rs 650/month and Hotstar’s premium services at Rs199/month and your increasingly redundant cable TV connection, and the difference is massive. At just over 40 rupees a month Amazon gives you a huge library of video content as well as delivery services. It’s a startling deal that will allow Amazon to make double-edged inroads among Indian consumers, and it may well hit Snapdeal harder than it does Netflix.
What you deserve to watch:
Here, in no particular order, are the finest TV shows you can find on Amazon India right this minute:
Set in the 1980s, this comedy about a young boy working at a swanky country club feels like something you may have watched before, but I assure you it does entirely its own thing. It’s a smart, funny show with a fair bit of feeling, and there’s a surprising bit of nuance to be found between the lines. It is, above all, an affectionate take on the period that — surprise surprise — doesn’t lean on an overplayed soundtrack to drive the mood home.
The Man In The High Castle
Built for binging, this thrilling take on Philip K Dick’s fantastic novel of the same name deals with an alternate reality where the Axis Powers won World War II and America’s carcass has been ripped apart for the Japanese and the Nazis to feast upon. It is ambitious and unpredictable and often deeply unsettling, and it’s nearly impossible to look away. Free up a weekend and dive right in without reading much more.
Flesh And Bone
A show about the inner workings of the ballet world might not sound like everybody’s cup of streaming tea, but — as is evident from the devastatingly gorgeous opening credits sequence — this isn’t just another dance dramedy. A strikingly gothic take on the inner machinations and behind the scenes skullduggery, this one is likely to have you watching with eyes open wide in morbid fascination.
The Girlfriend Experience
One of the most impressive new shows of 2016, this thoughtful and incisive take on Steven Soderbergh’s compelling cinematic experiment tells the story of an escort who provides clients with an intimate emotional and sexual experience. Riley Keough is a superb, atypical leading lady and the show itself is a wonderfully hard to define creature, one that transmogrifies through genres to emerge both supple and magical. I frequently find myself marvelling at certain aspects of the storytelling, and could not recommend this show enough.
What you can’t watch on Amazon Prime just yet:
The Amazon library offers a solid selection of films in English and regional Indian languages — and allows you to watch Fear Of The Walking Dead dubbed in Bangla (a priceless experience) and Seinfeld with Hindi subtitles, GIFs of which will litter all our timelines over the next month — yet it is befuddling how many of Amazon’s own original shows haven’t yet made it to India.
It is admittedly early and the content library will grow in the coming weeks, but right now there is no new season of Amazon’s magnificent Transparent, no new season of Mozart In The Jungle, and no sign of this year’s breakout hit Fleabag. Even Woody Allen’s much maligned Crisis In Six Scenes, another Amazon exclusive, is nowhere to be found on the Indian store.
As of now, however, those with a VPN can use their Amazon Prime India account to access all the shows and films on the Amazon Prime library in the US, but this is a loophole likely to be plugged soon — so reap the benefits while you can.
Content, especially that created by Amazon, will come soon. The far graver issue is that of self-censorship, something Amazon is doing unlike Netflix and Hotstar which show uncensored films and television shows in India. As spotted by eagle-eyed young users on Reddit India, shows like Californication and The Man In The High Castle are suffering from blurred/pixelated nudity, as are films like Watchmen and — sacrilegiously — The Godfather.
This playing-it-safe behaviour sets a bad precedent at a time when even the I&B Ministry has declared that they are not considering censorship of content broadcast across the Internet. It appears that Amazon wants to toe a line that they are prematurely drawing themselves, and a censored library might cost them many a loyalist.
The most unnerving example of self-curtailed content I found was on their humongous new car show, The Grand Tour. On the fourth episode of the series, Jeremy Clarkson drives a car made of animal carcasses, looking through a windshield made of a cow’s innards. The hour long episode has, absurdly enough, been shortened to half its length and there is no meat-car in sight.
There we are. We now have Amazon Prime Video and yet we don’t have all that we expect from it. As we’ve seen from Netflix, however, the catalogue can expand at a reasonably satisfactory pace, and one can only hope that Amazon rethinks the self-censorship hara-kiri after all the inevitable backlash they will receive. I’m staying bullish and looking forward to combing through the content on offer, but then I’m easy — they’d have had me with just one show.
For less than a rupee and a half a day, I now live with the comfort of every single episode of Seinfeld available to me at any possible time. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a perennial Summer Of George.