Month: July 2016

A Web of Change

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Tanya and Mikesh have been together in a long distance relationship for three years now. One fine morning, Mikesh decides to come back from the US to Mumbai, to propose to Tanya, except Tanya doesn’t want to marry him, for she’s just realised that she barely even knows him. What follows next isn’t the story of the latest Desi romantic comedy novel to hit the shelves, but the first season of Permanent Roommates, a web serial that is produced by The Viral Fever channel on YouTube.

Permanent Roommates has had two seasons so far, and with more than a million hits on each episode, isn’t just a massive success for an independent operation, but has also sparked more YouTube web-series being created in its wake. These shows are all online on YouTube, which means you can watch them whenever you want to. They are roughly twenty minutes long (much like any show that would normally take a half hour slot on television), and take on themes which would be considered to be too audacious for Indian prime time TV. Permanent Roommates, for example, takes on live-in relationships, modern friendships and pre-marital sex – themes which have been done to death on western television shows, but are refreshing to watch when presented in Indian context. Permanent Roommates is based in Mumbai, so the characters speak in Hindi, however, the channel provides subtitles, which is a boon for the Hindi challenged such as myself, not to mention that it ensures that the show gets the large audience that it deserves.

Another web series that I really enjoyed watching, was The Better Life Foundation on the Them Boxer Shorts channel, also on YouTube. The Better Life Foundation, which stars popular stand-up comedians Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Utsav Chakraborty and Kanan Gill among others like Kumar Varun and Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, is a comedy about a group of young people who run an NGO in Mumbai. The show is presented in a ‘mockumentary’ style, similar to The Office and Modern Family. The humour in the series is very original, and the acting is spot on. I found myself actually laughing out loud many times while watching (this hardly ever happens), so if you’re looking out for a new comedy series to follow, don’t look further than The Better Life Foundation.

Permanent Roommates and The Better Life Foundation are just the tip of the iceberg where Indian web series are concerned. A lot of production houses are coming up with web series that are both regional and relevant for the young audience it caters for, complete with local pop-culture references. Put Chutney, a Chennai based YouTube channel which rose to fame with its “If Batman Was From Chennai” video just released its own web series called Ctrl+Alt+Del which traces the life and times of a group of IT workers in Chennai. The amount of activity in this space is quite exciting, and I really hope that this trend manages to jolt regional serial makers from their current and seemingly never-ending themes of unnecessary sacrifice, jealousy and vengeance, take notice of the fact that their audience’s tastes and views are changing, and finally, realise that we deserve better than feuding mother-in-laws.

The Guessing Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I suppose the easiest way of explaining the Emmy awards is to say that they’re like the Oscars, but for Television. There is a Television Academy in Los Angeles, similar to the Motion Picture Academy, which honours the best of Prime Time Television. The awards are determined in an identical manner as well, through peer voting. The Emmy awards differ from the Oscars however, in the manner in which the votes are cast. Unlike the Oscars, where every voting member of the Motion Picture Academy (which is roughly about six thousand member strong) gets to vote in all the categories, the members of the Television Academy are split into groups based on the expertise. So in essence, actors vote for acting categories, writers for writing categories and so on, automatically making the voter group smaller, and the awards, very competitive. As if that’s not hard enough, the quality of television these days ensures that the difference between an Emmy and second place would have only been the barest of margins.

The nominations this year have been mostly predictable, like Game of Thrones finding itself nominated in a whopping twenty three categories, but with a few surprises, like Aziz Ansari being nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category, as well as his show Master of None, being nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series. If Aziz Ansari wins, he will be the first of South Asian descent to win an Emmy in the lead comedy actor category (he’s the first to even be nominated), but faces stiff competition with the likes of Jeffrey Tambor (who plays a woman, Maura Pfefferman, in Transparent) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) also vying for the honour.

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The Night Manager found itself in the honours list as well, with the show being nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and its leads, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman nominated for acting honours. It’s hard to say if they’d win though, because non-Americans haven’t really had the greatest runs in the Emmys, and also because People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story is in the same category. People vs OJ Simpson scored twenty two nominations, making it second only to Game of Thrones with respect to the volume of nominations, so while I have a great deal of love for The Night Manager, I won’t be putting my money on them.

This year also saw The Americans finally being given the nominations it deserved after three years of being in the Emmy snub list. The show has been nominated for Outstanding Drama, and the leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have both been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress and Actor in a Drama Series categories. Keri Russell is up against some stiff competition with Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), Taraji P Henson (Empire) and Robin Wright (House of Cards), and so is Matthew Rhys, who is competing with the likes of Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).

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I hope The Americans win an award this year, not because the performances and writing were better than that of their fellow nominees’ (I mean, did you take a look at that list? They’re all impeccable), but because The Americans deals with a subject matter that is complicated, and uncomfortable – it makes you empathise with your enemies, and turns your perceptions of the bad guy on its head. It is intense, for me, has taken over the spot which was filled by Better Call Saul as the best drama series on television at the moment. So could this be the year of the Emmy underdogs? Or will it be just another year where the rest of us television nuts wax lyrical about our deserving, off-beat favourites, but Game of Thrones and House of Cards split all the awards between themselves?
Probably the latter.

Back To The Future

{First published in The Hindu Metroplus}

My sister and I grew up with the television in the most literal way – as toddlers, neither of us would accommodate meal times unless it involved very specific television. In my case, it was cartoons, and in her case, it was MTV. Today, my nieces and nephews eat while fiddling about with their parents’ tablets and phones, but what they watch hasn’t particularly changed, for it is still loud music and talking animals. A pink cartoon pig called Peppa that speaks in a British accent, particularly, has most of my little cousins in raptures. Peppa Pig is originally a television show,but now, thanks to how tech-savvy its audience is, has a slew of apps which ensure that kids always have access to Peppa whenever they want to (and to help parents have less troublesome meal times).

The fact that you don’t actually need a television to watch television programmes is something about modern television that never ceases to amaze me. Gone are the days I had to time tuition classes to ensure that I didn’t miss watching reruns of Full House. Gone are also the days when my family and I sat together and watched television. Does anyone even do that these days? Watching television with friends and family seems to be an event reserved for major sporting tournaments. Most of the television I watch and discover are from and through the two streaming services I’ve subscribed to – Netflix and HotStar. I watch YouTube for updates on films and song releases, like most of my generation. Does this mean we’re all headed to a future where we’re going to become lonely zombies who are plugged into their own little technology bubbles?

Perhaps not. My parents, who grew up in the seventies and the eighties, have often told us stories of getting together at the house of the one neighbour in the street who owned a television, to watch Oliyum Oliyum on weekends for that was what anyone spoke about in school the next day. Television back then, they said, was as special watching films in the theatre, if not more. Today though, we (my parents included), are all plugged into our own devices, but interestingly, we’ve never stopped discussing the shows that we see. If you’ve ever watched a live-stream on your computer of an important sporting event while being plugged into Twitter, you’d know that the experience is the virtual equivalent of viewing it with a massive crowd. Accenture confirmed this when they conducted a survey a year or so ago where their researchers discovered that consumers are switching to watching television on computers and mobile devices: about 62% of TV viewers concurrently use a laptop to watch television, and 41%, phones.

Given the popularity of mobile devices though, it’s no surprise that programme creators ensure that their shows are also streamed online, apart from being telecast, and that almost every news channel telecasts their programmes on their websites as well. It’s also no surprise that television makers are pulling all stops to make the device more relevant to the viewer of today – television sets now come equipped with internet connectivity, bluetooth, and streaming capabilities.

Despite the increasing usage of mobile devices to watch programmes, I don’t believe that the television will go defunct any time soon, in fact, the TV set looks to become an entire ecosystem by itself. You’ll probably be able to share content, and your opinions, with whoever you want to, with just your remote control. Television programming might become more interactive than ever, with the audience playing the most important role in not only shaping the content, but creating it as well. We’ve already seen news channels inviting citizen journalists, so the day where audience members become either part of the cast or the production of television shows, doesn’t look too far away. The future of television, in many ways, is in our hands.

My Watch Has Ended

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s impossible at this time and age to keep track of every show on air, which is why recommendations on what to stop watching, are just as important as what to watch. Here’s my guide on shows to kick out of your watch list for there’s little worse than precious time (and space on our hard disks) wasted on terrible television.

Empire: I have professed to loving this show many times to many people, and the truth is I did enjoy the first season’s humour, music and the exquisite tension between the leads, Lucious (Terrence Howard), and Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson). There were lots of surprising turns, the music of the show was fabulous, the writing was crisp, and Cookie’s barbs in particular, were magic. Unfortunately, the second season went flying off the rails for me, with story developments that made no sense and twists that were so over the top that the show became a parody of its previous season. If you haven’t watched the show at all, I do highly, highly recommend the first season. The second season, unfortunately, is awful enough to warrant giving up on the show altogether, and is proof that in television, even the toughest Cookie is capable of crumbling.

Quantico: Quantico is another show I openly admitted to liking for it’s fast pace, and home girl Priyanka Chopra’s surprisingly (I was surprised, at any rate) effective performance. The thriller series worked well when the audience were forced to re-evaluate their predictions as to who bombed the Grand Central Station in the first half of the season, but the instead of tying the mystery together and providing some semblance of clarity to its viewers, the show just became a pointless goose chase. While I do hope that Priyanka does more mainstream American television in the future, I’ll be giving Quantico a miss from now.

The Flash: The Flash started getting tiresome for me the moment the writers stopped focusing on The Flash’s powers, the humour and the wit that the show is known for, and instead started putting out emotional plot arcs. Between Barry (Grant Gustin) refusing to commit to love because he’s a superhero, Joe West (Jesse Martin) going out of his way to be every character’s dad, and Iris West’s (Candice Patton) incapability to express feelings (not to mention the complete lack of chemistry between her and Barry), there were hardly any “that is so cool!” moments during the second season, which are so important for superhero shows. I might cling on to this series for a third season, but for a show that had a talking gorilla as a villain once, the entertainment quotient has really taken a steep dive.

The Big Bang Theory: The Big Bang Theory used to be an intelligent comedy about a bunch of physicists, but now, it’s just about a bunch of guys and their relationship problems. Even the show’s greatest character, the incorrigible Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) has relationship problems! The Raj Koothrappally (Kunal Nayyar) stereotypes have gone from bad to worse as well. The series has mutated from the interesting show about a bunch of people passionate about science, a group that is thoroughly underrepresented in mainstream television into a more boring version of Friends (whose reruns I can always watch anyway).

Two Broke Girls: To be honest, I’ve no idea how this show is even running. The acting is vapid, there’s zero humour despite the presence of the usually stellar Jennifer Coolidge, and to be honest, there really is no reason to watch this show unless you’re waiting for Masterchef to come on next.