Youtube Shows

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.

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.