Onkar Banerjee remembers the 1986 Fifa World Cup final like it was yesterday. “Back then there would be, at most, one TV in the entire neighbourhood. I was barely a teenager but stayed up all night at my friend’s house watching Maradona lift the trophy. Why, I even remember running home thereafter with street dogs at my heels,” laughs the CK Block resident.
And then there’s Amrapali Jana, a 20-something IT sector employee who has two TVs at home, both showpieces. “My parents, sister and I watch Netflix and the like on our phones and laptops. My grandparents would watch TV but after they passed away we didn’t renew the set top box subscriptions and the TV sets now gather dust. I haven’t touched the TV in five or six years,” says the CD Block resident but she watches Netflix every day.
November 21 was World Television Day but clearly, the TV has come to mean different things for different people. An extension of the television is over the top (OTT) platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
These are paid phone apps, which allow users to watch a massive amount of films, documentaries, web series (original serials created for that platform). Besides international content, platforms like SonyLIV and Zee5 stream serials that are shown on their regular TV channels but with the benefit of watching them as and when they like without having to tune in at a particular hour.
Users can watch it in the balcony or car if they like and they are not interrupted by commercial breaks either. If users find the phone screen too small, they can watch it on laptops or buy and install a ‘firestick’ device and watch the OTT content on a TV set.
OTTs may be the new kid on the block but the time-tested idiot box still has ardent followers. “Some of my friends hang up the phone if it’s nearing 7pm. They have to go watch their serials,” smiles Purabi Basu of New Town’s AB Block.
Basu, a senior citizen, watches local as well as international news on TV as her son stays in the UK, daughter in the US and she wants the latest updates from there. “I don’t care much for serials but watch Didi No. 1 come rain, come shine. They get strong women as participants who I feel inspired by,” she says.
Rina Chandra of BD Block wouldn’t say she is addicted but likes her Karunamoyee Rani Rashmoni, Krishnakali, Ki kore bolbo tomay and at times Dadagiri and Mirakkel. Sa Re Ga Ma Pa music reality show, Prothoma Kadambini, Alo Chhaya and Firki are other crowd-pullers.
Ashis Hazra sticks to Discovery, National Geographic and news channels, “but my wife watches shows on Sarada Ma and Rani Rashmoni and I passively watch them sometimes,” says the AL Block resident.
Serials, that form a chunk of television content, have critics galore. “Despite the wealth of Bengali literature our serials are of such poor quality! Why are they stretched till eternity,” asks Basu, who doesn’t like any serial.
Sudeshna Maiti had started watching Kheerer Putul, “but after a point I found it so appalling that I decided to read the Abanindranath Tagore fantasy it is based on. The serial had deviated so much from the book that I quit watching it,” says the FC Block resident. “And can someone tell me why every character in serials is dressed in wedding finery all the time?”
This is exactly what drove the youth away from television. “When I was in high school, Indian television completely ignored my demography. And if the saas-bahu stupidity wasn’t enough they had just stumbled upon a naagin phase. Everyone in every show was an ichchhadhari naagin!” Amrapali wrinkles her nose. “Star World and Zee Cafe would fill the void somewhat but starved of decent content, every youngster was illegally downloading Game of Thrones then.”
The turning point came when this generation left town for college. Their PGs would not have TVs and they began relying on their laptops for entertainment. “That’s when we discovered the plethora of content on OTTs,” says the girl who loves watching crime and mystery. Amrapali has watched international webseries like Mindhunter, Unbelievable, Broadchurch and Indian ones like Sacred Games, Mirzapur and the recently released Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, that she feels may be the best show produced in the country.
Her mother is busy watching The Crown, based on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, and her father caught some IPL action on his phone.
After the demise of Sushant Singh Rajput, his last movie Dil Bechara was streamed on an OTT and like all his faithful fans, Eastern Grove’s Debolina Roy tuned in the very minute it was released. “Many faced problems that day as the platform was unable to handle the deluge of visitors but I saw it in one breath smoothly,” she says.
Her domestic help, by the way, has started watching re-runs of Rajput’s TV serial Pavitra Rishta.
Channels are also showing films of Soumitra Chatterjee after his demise and residents aren’t far away. “Last weekend I saw his Sanjhbati, that was shot in Salt Lake. The streets looked familiar and I recognised BD Market,” smiles Chandra, who lives a few lanes away from the market in question.
Manjusri Dutta has a domestic help who loves watching cinema on the telly. “So much so that she has borrowed booklets on Soumitra from me after his demise,” says the CB Block resident. “This girl dropped out of school after Class VIII and I wonder how much she’ll relate to the intellectual content of most Soumitra movies, but I was happy nonetheless to see her love for films drive her reading habit.”
Maiti and her mother revisited classics aired on Doordarshan during the lockdown. “We enjoyed Mahabharat and Byomkesh Bakshi and were waiting for Vikram Aur Betaal but they didn’t screen it,” she says.
When Debasmita Dutta realised how bored her parents were getting during the lockdown, she installed Jio Fiber on their telly and now her parents can watch several OTTs easily. “For the first time in my life, I had time to watch my favourite show, Crime Patrol,” says her father Rahul Dutta of CA Block.
“No one in my generation watches TV anymore,” says Debasmita. “I myself have had OTTs for long but it’s only when offices were shut during the lockdown did I get hooked on to them. I’ve watched Bandish Bandits, Lalbazaar, Tansener Tanpura…”
Jayita Choudhury has always kept a check on the amount of screentime her twins get but the charts went for a toss when the lockdown was announced. “I had no other way to engage the four-year-olds,” says the hapless resident of BH Block.
Their TV, however, does not have cable connection and the family only watches OTTs. “We subscribed to the kids-friendly Disney+ and now they watch films like Cars, The Incredibles and Frozen on it all the time. My husband and I have different tastes — he likes sports and war films while I’m watching The Crown and we watch our own shows on our own devices at bed time. The only thing we both enjoy together is the Trump drama, which is more entertaining than any piece of fiction!”
Even Onkar, the one who got chased home by dogs the night Maradona took home the World Cup, switched to OTTs during the lockdown. “I was so bored with nowhere to go but OTTs opened a whole new world. I saw Sushmita Sen’s Aarya, Inside Edge, a fictional account of betting in the IPL, Eken Babu and Tansener Tanpura. Production values are much higher than on TV,” he says.
Arushi Pant, a Class XI student, says neither she nor her parents have any time for the telly now. “The work-from-home format has everyone working round the clock and if I get some time free I go for a run or sing. At most, we sit for a movie as a family once a month and we pick whatever is trending on Netflix,” says the resident of Rosedale Garden.
Neelanjana Dutta of DLF New Town Heights says they spent the initial weeks of the lockdown watching nothing but the news. “I used to watch a serial called Sreemoyee before that but I lost interest with all the tension around. We did watch Mahabharat on Star Plus, though.”
Most elderly respondents were reluctant to try OTTs as it meant tackling a new technology. “I don’t even click on the links my children send me by WhatsApp so I’m unlikely to try these out,” confesses Basu.
Debolina points at the content itself. “The content served on OTTs is for the youth. My granny watches shows on Sarada Ma on TV. How can I ask her to tune into Hoichoi, a platform that serves shows with titles like Charitraheen? The elderly are quite happy with their religious and family dramas.”
Maiti is tired of serials on the telly but but won’t bite the OTT bait. “I have high power in my eyes and after a day of working on the computer cannot afford to stare at a tiny phone screen in the name of recreation,” she reasons.
In many young families, the effect of OTTs is quite blunt and some parents are concerned. “A TV in the living room used to unite a family or even the neighbourhood. Kids of today are missing out on that fun,” says Onkar.
Anikesh Banerjee of NBCC Vibgyor Towers feels the plethora of options — be it in content or devices — is not good for kids in the long run.
“Now if a child doesn’t like the news the father is watching he can walk away to his room and watch cartoons on his phone. If he doesn’t like a show he can change it without batting an eyelid. Where is the chance to learn tolerance and compromise? Watching a show may be a piece of cake now but life is not this easy,” Anikesh says.