4 min read.Updated: 11 Feb 2021, 02:57 PM ISTLata Jha
The list of top OTT originals in the first week of February, included Tandav at rank one and Mirzapur 2 at three, even though the latter had released way back in October
New Delhi: The controversies around recent web originals like Tandav and Mirzapur 2 have possibly made audiences more curious about their themes and content, drawing significant eyeballs to over-the-top (OTT) services. According to estimates by media consulting firm Ormax, Tandav was the second most viewed OTT show across platforms in the week of launch, notching up 3.2 million views within three days, continuing its run as controversies raged on, in its second week with 5.9 million views.
The list of top OTT originals in the first week of February, included Tandav at rank one and Mirzapur 2 at three, even though the latter had released way back in October. Though not courting controversy on the same scale, Akshay Kumar’s Laxmii that was opposed by Hindu groups had clocked 3.7 million concurrent views on the day of release, according to trade website Box Office India.
Ormax has an ongoing track called Ormax Stream Track, that surveys OTT viewers across India every week and asks them questions related to recently released and upcoming shows, such as viewership, likeability, intention to watch etc. This data is used to extrapolate the viewership to an all-India level. Viewership figures are estimates of number of people in India who have watched one or more episode of the show. For films, it is a minimum of 30 minutes watched. The sample size of Ormax studies can go upwards of 5,000 across all states and union territories except Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
Although complaints and controversies around shows may bump up their viewership, they make content makers anxious about the future of creative expression. FIRs were first lodged against the Tandav team in different parts of the country, soon after its launch last month. Haryana home minister Anil Vij also said the show has hurt religious sentiments and the I&B ministry should make a provision to screen web shows before release. Eventually the Tandav team agreed to make changes to portions found objectionable, making it the first show to officially modify content since OTT was brought under the I&B purview last November.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had issued notice to the makers, Amazon Prime and the centre on a petition that called for a ban on Mirzapur, alleging it “maligns the image of Uttar Pradesh".
“Viewership definitely sees an increase when major controversies erupt around a web show," Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer of Ormax said adding that the company saw significant growth in audience recall of shows as a result of controversies. For example, the buzz for Tandav on its weekly track went up from 17% to 56% in the week the controversy erupted.
Film critic Manoj Kumar R said a show as poorly staged as Tandav would have managed little attention had people not made such a fuss about things given that the Amazon series is far from hard-hitting.
In the past, films such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama Padmaavat and Vijay’s Tamil movie Mersal have benefited from controversies, both making over ₹200 crore in box office collections. Padmaavat (earlier titled Padmavati) was opposed by several Rajput caste organisations including Shri Rajput Karni Sena for allegedly portraying Padmavati, a Rajput queen, in bad light with its members vandalizing the sets and threatening to disrupt theatres playing the film. Mersal, on the other hand, was slammed by the Tamil Nadu section of the Bhartiya Janata Party for a few scenes that reportedly took a dig at schemes like demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax and the Digital India initiative.
“These things definitely create curiosity among people that they (the films or shows) don’t deserve," Kumar said.
Despite pushback, a lot of writers and filmmakers, however, continue to take on strong subjects, he added. For example, every third film made in the south deals political themes. Kumar pointed to the recently released Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen that struggled to find takers among OTT players as it touched upon the politics around the entry of women in the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala. Ultimately making its way to a niche Malayalam service Neestream last month, the film has been praised and stirred a debate on the roles defined for women by a patriarchal society.
“In a democracy, you should be able to tell your story the way you see it. Someone with another point of view has the right to critique it or counter it with their version of a story. This censorship businesses is another word for bullying," said Apurva Asrani, writer of writer of Hotstar’s Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors adding that he will continue to pick uncomfortable subjects.
Services like Netflix, ALTBalaji and Sony LIV declined to comment on whether controversies can help draw eyeballs while Amazon and Disney+ Hotstar did not respond to Mint’s queries. However, not everyone agrees all publicity is good.
“The attention span of Twitteratti is pretty short and controversies do not stay alive too long unless there are vested interests involved. The success of a show has to do with its merit, appeal and marketing and other things are just extraneous," said Sanjeev Lamba, executive producer, Hungama Originals at Hungama Digital Media.
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