OTT platforms serve shows heavy on political messaging to exploit poll fervour

  • Industry experts say that most of the shows are targeted at the hardcore endorsers of existing majoritarian sentiments, and illustrate how media, including films and other entertainment avenues, is exploited by political parties for electoral gains.

Lata Jha
First Published15 May 2024
JioCinema and ZEE5 are premiering political shows titled Ranneeti: Balakot & Beyond and Thalaimai Seylagam respectively.
JioCinema and ZEE5 are premiering political shows titled Ranneeti: Balakot & Beyond and Thalaimai Seylagam respectively. (X)

Video-streaming platforms are launching shows heavy on political messaging, with a few releasing them in the midst of the ongoing Lok Sabha campaign to cash in on the poll fervour.

While filmmaker Priyadarshan has announced a show on the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, JioCinema is streaming a political show titled Ranneeti: Balakot & Beyond, while ZEE5 is set to premier on 17 May Tamil web series Thalaimai Seyalagam.

Industry experts say that most of the shows are targeted at the hardcore endorsers of existing majoritarian sentiments, and illustrate how media, including films and other entertainment avenues, is exploited by political parties for electoral gains.

Ranneeti: Balakot & Beyond is based on the dramatic airstrikes by Indian fighter planes to destroy terror camps in Pakistan's Balakot in February 2019.

In a statement, JioCinema referred to Ranneeti: Balakot & Beyond as a “web-series (that) decodes the modern warfare that isn’t simply fought on physical borders but transcends to the domain of social media, digital tactics and covert political moves that have the power to reshape geo-politics”.

In a separate statement, Radhika Sarathkumar, producer of Thalaimai Seylagam, said the series encapsulates the essence of Tamil Nadu politics on a national stage, juxtaposing it with the intricacies of grassroots workers and rebel groups in Jharkhand.

“Be it in the theatre or on OTT, political content creates curiosity and there is some kind of rush to watch it, especially if the promos are cut well or like in the case of The Kerala Story (that released in cinemas), there is a certain acknowledgment and support by those in power,” Akshay Bardapurkar, founder of OTT platform Planet Marathi, said. 

When shows or movies are modelled on real-life incidents or political scandals, there is already a lot of awareness in the public domain and in many cases, there is no need to take permission from specific individuals or organizations, he said. 

Bardapurkar added that the platform has plans to release some shows with political themes to coincide with the Vidhan Sabha elections in Maharashtra in September and October.

Harish Bijoor, business and brand-strategy specialist, said the relationship between politics and news can be both obvious and slightly covert. The more obvious form is via news media where print or broadcast organizations report on politics and politicians. The less obvious one is via entertainment channels.

 “The less overt relationship is with the genre of entertainment where there is a possibility of channels taking up shows that are relevant to the charged political environment and mood of the day and go on to play on the mind of the voter,” Bijoor said. 

Bijoor, however, pointed out that biographies or accounts of political personalities are niche genres that only come to the fore during charged electoral battles, such as the ongoing Lok Sabha campaign.

Media experts point out that politically-themed content may have been planned to coincide with the elections, but the impact of OTT is still limited to an urban, metro-centric population, many of whom are already believers of majoritarian ideologies. It could all be part of the larger media plan to cater to sympathizers of the cause, as is often the case with nationalist, propaganda films that release in theatres.

Also Read: OTT players turning to legal experts before airing political dramas 

“These shows will help harden the existing opinion and polarisation. There is nothing new about this content though. Also, there could be a problem of overkill with so many shows and movies on similar themes,” film critic and documentary filmmaker C.S. Venkiteswaran said.

Sandeep Goyal, an advertising veteran and the managing director of Rediffusion, agreed, saying that while the shows may not be able to convert any new voters, they help re-emphasize the loyalty of hardcore followers. They make sure that the hardcore voter stays on, Goyal explained.

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