Anthologies are all the rage, thanks to OTT. A story in 30 minutes. Some of them haven’t exactly met with the sort of public adoration or critical appreciation the makers may have hoped for. But, nonetheless, there is much going for this genre. Filmmakers often find it daunting to wrap up a tale in 30 minutes flat, especially if the film—like the recently-released Paava Kadhaigal—is helmed by different directors. Now, Netflix and Amazon Prime have turned towards the South to produce originals, with both of them commencing their journeys in Tamil. Netflix’s upcoming Navarasa is co-produced by Mani Ratnam with an array of directors and actors on board.
“Anthologies are coming into vogue because this format is better suited for digital consumption, which has become the predominant mode of content consumption,” says director Aju Kizhumala, who made his debut with the Malayalam anthology, Ente Cinema. “In the Malayalam film industry, there have been many attempts with this form before, like Kerala Cafe (2009), but they never yielded results. However, with OTT platforms, people seem to like the idea of watching multiple short films with breaks. You can watch a segment during an office break or while commuting. The same cannot be said for a feature film,” he adds.
The earlier ones made for theatres, such as Ashi Dua-produced Bombay Talkies, Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha, or Bejoy Nambiar’s Solo made only decent impressions at the box office. However, the consequent emergence of OTT platforms changed the playing field, as Kizhumala says. The first sign of this was the Bombay Talkies directors—Karan Johar, Zoya Akthar, Anurag Kashyap, and Dibakar Banerjee—joining hands again for Lust Stories. Also, the Covid lockdown meant that the OTT importance rose further, giving a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for the anthology movement.
Anurag Basu’s Ludo, which released on Netflix earlier this month to rave reviews, might also be called anthology cinema. Several distinct narratives interlinked thematically. In fact, Basu’s earlier Life in a Metro also falls in the same category. In fact, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu used this technique in his Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams and Birdman. All widely acclaimed films. At the end of the day what matters is the core concept that connects the individual stories.
With the pandemic causing film production to take a serious hit, filmmakers and actors have also found shooting the shorter format easier, with smaller cast and crew members. Barath Neelakantan, director of Crossroads, one of the segments in the Telugu anthology, Addham, agrees. He says, “The lockdown situation caused us to really take to this format. Also, as a product, an anthology has the appeal of bringing to you a whole host of different directors and actors. However, once all the restrictions over shooting are lifted, we have to see if filmmakers and platforms still show interest in this genre.”
Dua, the producer of Paava Kadhaigal, does not believe OTT platforms prefer anthologies over feature films. He thinks it’s just a case of getting to see work by many directors under one label—like watching a trailer and then deciding whether the content seems interesting enough. The producer, who has previously made Bombay Talkies, Lust Stories, and Ghost Stories, believes that producing an anthology has both an upside and a downside. “While the upside is that you get to work with multiple filmmakers, the downside is the challenge of bringing them together. It’s quite a task for a producer,” he rues.
While the trend has gained momentum owing to 2020’s many forced changes, this year will tell if any market demand will result in more such stories being done. Halitha Shameem, director of the successful anthology, Sillu Karupatti, says, “It looks like everyone is forced to do anthologies these days. So, like all trends, I’m sure this one too will run its course. When you take stock, you will see that only a handful of films have stood out. Pizza’s success resulted in a bunch of horror films, but looking back, only a few are worth taking note of. The same will happen with this genre.” It remains to be seen whether Shameem’s words are prophetic or not.