Anti-fragile art/entertainment!

Updated: May 23, 2020, 07:11 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Ten desi things on screen that, for totally separate reasons, have stood out since lockdown so far.

Manoj Bajpayee in 1971
Manoj Bajpayee in 1971

What's 'anti-fragile' — a term by iconoclast scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who also coined 'black swan' (which is also currently in vogue; Google it)? 'Anti-fragile' is the opposite of 'delicate'. As against 'robust', meaning something that strongly withstands a crisis. Stuff that's anti-fragile actually blooms in gloom!

Entertainment is one of them. For instance, happy musicals of Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire were the direct result of the 1929 Great Depression. Point taken? Of course we're far too in the midst of the cloud/COVID-19 to look for any silver lining. That said, ever since the lockdown, by a law of unintended consequences, can't help but feel happy for:

1. 1971 — lost and found!

"1971 becomes a hit." "A super-hit!" "A digital blockbuster!" I'm quoting from a post-release clip of a film, which in turn is quoting top news/entertainment portals, on the fact that the movie has had "20 million plus views; over 400 million hours of watch-time" —mostly since lockdown.

Where? On YouTube! What's 1971 again? A Bollywood war-film from 13 years ago, starring Manoj Bajpayee, Ravi Kishen, Deepak Dobriyal and others. Unsure if there was a coordinated social-media campaign, or the word-of-mouth just organically grew from among Bajpayee's followers on Twitter/Instagram. Either way, good to know that while the world was sinking, at least a picture that sank without a trace in 2007, mysteriously came to the fore!

2. Return of Ramayan & friends

Who produced and directed the digital rebound-hit, 1971, and hopefully made some money (from YouTube) for it? Amrit Sagar, whose grandfather Ramanand made Ramayan. Government ran the three-decade-old Ramayan on Doordarshan, breaking all-time records in television ratings again. Yet Sagars, the original producers, saw not a rupee.

By the way when Kaun Banega Crorepati was banging charts on Star TV in 2000, suits at the rival Sony had considered replaying Ramayan, but rejected the move, wondering who'll watch such an old show? Right now, even Colors is playing the decades' old, BR Chopra's Mahabharat! Similarly, reruns of Friends from 1994 are killing it foremost on Netflix. Guess we look to the past, when future looks bleak?

3. One, two, three tequila, floor

Everyone's talking about which Paatal Lok episode they're in — on Amazon Prime. What nobody's shouting from rooftops about is how they've all quietly lapped up the desi Sex and the City, Four More Shots Please — which is far better than its first season, and certainly loved more.

It's the year's most watched show on Prime so far. Why's that significant? Because in the battle between web-platforms in India, Prime is the clear-cut winner, hands-down. Slip in the series Panchayat there as well. Also, Bollywood's first major direct-to-OTT release, Shoojit Sircar's Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana. Woah!

4. Mastram bole toh?

Speaking of what you claim in public, and what you watch in private, Mastram, a soft porn fantasy — based on the Hindi paperback smut sensation, Mastram — came out as a movie few years back. You probably don't even know about it. It appeared as a series on a lesser known platform, MX Player. How many views? Crossed 200 million, within 15 days! What to make of this? Flip open Netflix, and check out their global trending shows — You, Too Hot To Handle, etc. The world's basically 'mast' (on heat), with nowhere to go!

5. Angrezi Medium, very kamyaab!

Which Hindi films were playing in theatres, priming towards commercial success, before being shuttered down for lockdown? Angrezi Medium, I'm told, had hurriedly opened that fateful Friday, only to ensure the film's ailing leading-man Irrfan could live to see it through release. Irrfan passed away, having left behind a monologue for fans while promoting his final film, that reminded people of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand.

There was also Angrezi Medium to watch on Disney+Hotstar as final goodbye. Most teary-eyed film-buffs did. What else was in theatres? Sanjay Mishra as retired actor Sudhir in Kaamyaab. That struck a chord too, on Netflix. Also for the recurring line, "Enjoying life, aur option hi kya hai!" Resonates when you're stuck at home. Ordered that T-shirt too. On its way; for a couple of months now.

6. Art-house in your house?

Okay this could be limited to Film Twitter, as they call movie-bluffs with digital diarrhoea on the social-media platform that's essentially drafted everyone as experts on everything in the world; but also to show off taste in all things artistic. That said, can't recall the last time I saw mass-circulating tweets on Mani Kaul's Duvidha (1973), Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala (1987), or a Saeed Akhtar Mirza retrospective.

This is basically thanks to Mubi, an app that curates art-house cinema to be viewed within a limited period. Sensing collective delight, Mubi developed and threw open a library of classics, which would stay on the app forever. The hysteria on 'Indian Film Twitter' over Polish Krzysztof Kieślowski and French Francois Truffaut had to be witnessed to believe!

7. Viva Virus!

Both Guardian and Economist — twin pillars of quality British journalism — have referenced Aashiq Abu's Malayalam medical-thriller Virus (2019), to explain how Kerala had thus far fared better than the world in the battle against Coronavirus. The film looks at how Kerala contained Nipah outbreak in 2018. Richly detailed, and sadly prophetic, Virus remains India's own version/answer to Steven Soderbergh's Contagion (2011) that practically the whole world must've re-watched hitting Corona-quarantine.

8. Mishras goes global

Lisa Mishra
Lisa Mishra

Lot of WhatsApp texts must've passed around, especially among desis abroad, to check who are these two (unrelated) Mishras, Lisa and Vishal — I certainly received some — as they separately performed on the globe's biggest online concert, One World: Together At Home, alongside likes of Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Celine Dion…. Lisa sang a song titled Sajna Ve, Vishal played Aaj Bhi. Surely inspiring a lot of Google/Spotify searches. Just the way so many looked up Prateek Kuhad once his track Cold/Mess made it to Obama's 2019 favourites' list!

9. Barkha Dutt on the road

No better example than Barkha Dutt of how one reporter, without massive financial support, with a small crew on the road, but millions of followers online, can change the way tragedies surrounding COVID-19 could be covered on mainstream television news. Quite a few national TV channels started capturing the mayhem among fleeing migrants, after Dutt stayed on under the sun. Many other stations, of course, carried on with air-conditioned, air-headed "political" news, bordering on complete irrelevance still.

10. Shilpa Shetty on TikTok

a snapshot of Shilpa Shetty's TikTok vide
A snapshot of Shilpa Shetty's TikTok video

Yes, I have seen Shilpa Shetty and her husband killing it on TikTok. So have you. Whether or not you've checked out 10 million plus people who downloaded TikTok in April alone — all of them doing crazy stuff over weirdest voice-over, to catch your attention, find likes/love! And make sure that if we are indeed perishing (who knows), we can at least amuse ourselves to death, in every possible way.

TikTok videos have become for our personal entertainment, what Zoom video-conferencing is for our lockdown work-life. With Zoom, who do I feel bad for? Skype. I mean, seriously, as Hasan Minhaj tells Skype on his Netflix show Patriot Act: "You had a 17-year head-start, and Zoom ate your lunch in two weeks? You're a verb no one does. Your friend be like, 'Let me Skype you.' 'Cool, send me the Zoom link!'" Hah.

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