Two years ago, when Netflix released Sacred Games, I watched the premiere of the first episode on the silver screen with two close friends.
The opening shot, of a dog being flung from a balcony, with Nawazuddin's powerful voiceover saying, "Bhagwan mein mante ho? Bhagwan ko l*nd farak nahi padta" worked exactly the way intended - leaving us shocked, immediately hooking our attention, and completely living up to the hype of Netflix's first Hindi original.
But in the two years since, literally, every other OTT platform (and there are a fair few in India now) and web series have served sex, violence, and swear words on a platter. But very few of those dishes i.e. shows have actually been enticing.
Because most shows used sex and violence as a way to sell an underdeveloped, unoriginal story that wasn't just predictable but at times, so amateurish and crass, that sitting through it became a lesson in patience.
Panchayat - a story set in a village in India that chose to talk about the idyllic village life from an urban millennial's perspective. How rare is it that a story set in Indian villages does not focus on what is lacking, but rather celebrates the joy of small things, without whitewashing the reality?
Scam1992 - The world of finance has been wrought with scandals that left the world shocked but it took the genius of Hansal Mehta and Pratik Gandhi to bring one such story to life. And bring it in a way that turned even the convoluted world of the share market into an exciting drama.
Whether it was the sepia-tinted nostalgic flashback that Taj Mahal 1989 offered or the lockdown mystery that Gone Game explored, we finally found stories that evoked multiple emotions and didn't rely on the shock element alone, to reel in the audience.
And it wasn't just because of the genre these shows belonged to. Though multiple web series have exploited crime-dramas, as a genre, to serve sub-standard stories, shows like Aarya, Pushapvalli S2, Paatal Lok, or my personal favorite, Churails, have shown that violence always has to be a natural part of the narrative and never the whole narrative.
In the two years since the medium of web series truly exploded in India, there have been few shows that have actually utilized the lack of censorship (that would soon be a thing of the past) in a way that allowed them to tell original stories.
Shows like Made in Heaven, Gullak, Yeh Meri Family, or Kota Factory have been few and far in between. Whereas shows like Flesh, She, Dark 7 White, and countless others have sprouted like a weed in the crop of Indian web series.
Considering that web series in Indian began with shows like TVF's Permanent Roommates, YRF's Bang Baaja Baraat, Dice Media's What The Folks, and of course, the first Indian web series ever, TVF Pitchers, this feels like a real let down.
But, hopefully, the trend that 2020 brought back, of content being the king, will be the standard with which production houses, filmmakers, and writers look at new stories.
Because the audience will always look to stories to escape their reality or dive into a new fantasy. And it's only the stories that resonate with the audience that will continue to live on.