In pandemic times, OTT platforms offer cross-border entertainment, engagement and craze

Yet, the craze in Pakistan about Indian Bollywood beauties at times assumes dimensions that are wonderful but simultaneously bizarre, if published views of physicians and surgeons dealing with beauty-care are to be believed, writes Mahendra Ved for South Asia Monitor

Mahendra Ved May 21, 2021
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Bollywood

In keeping with its very definition, the OTT platform is going over the top, breaking all physical barriers. Its reach and growing popularity have come as a welcome relief for those in India and Pakistan seeking entertainment even as people on both sides, as elsewhere, struggle to live their lives locked in by the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

What remains as little sores are the economics of access to those who can pay, and glitches, both technological and occasionally political – read censorship - that seek to manage emotions surrounding neighborhood issues and sensitivities, real or imaginary, that could arouse popular passions and cause protests.

Indian OTT shows

Big relief for Pakistani OTT watchers come from Netflix series, many of them rooted in India with Indian themes. One of them deals with the “big fat Indian wedding,” another on the Indian style match-making, and a third, “Bombay Begums”, directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, who became famous after her movie “Lipstick Under My Burqa” scored a hit.          

The OTT platforms enable people in Pakistan to enjoy the Made-in-India stuff and see programs in some of which their artists are participating. Apparently ignored are protests in Pakistan media questioning the need for carrying Bollywood news and gossip about who does or says what and why, ‘when India bans Pakistani programs and its artistes’.

A telling comment by a newspaper reader was, why India should figure in Pakistani media at all, “when they refuse to buy even oxygen from us!”

Craze for Bollywood beauties

Yet, the craze in Pakistan about Bollywood beauties at times assumes dimensions that are wonderful but simultaneously bizarre, if published views of physicians and surgeons dealing with beauty care are to be believed.

“Many patients ask for Kylie’s lips, Anushka Sharma’s features, Deepika Padukone’s sharp jaw, or Kareena Kapoor’s cheekbones,” says Lahore-based Dr. Qureshi, who deals with such demands from the city’s elite.

Beauticians using injectables is a new trend in Pakistan. They use digital editing apps like FaceTune to discuss treatment options with their patients.

“People don’t come in wanting to look exactly like a particular celebrity. Instead, they’ll want certain features enhanced like how a celebrity has done,” explains Dr. Qureshi.

While Dr. Qureshi personally thinks that seeing so much filtered, edited perfection is bad for the human mind, she insists that injectables can give a positive boost to a person’s self-esteem.

Lahore-based dermatologist Dr. Amna Ahmar says: “I have people bringing in pictures of celebrities or influencers they follow saying ‘I want to look like that’,”.

“If people get satisfaction and peace with looking a certain way, then there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Film trade

With cinema theatres closed, thanks to the pandemic, the issue of film trade is on the backburner. The signals, if and when they come, will emanate from the political leadership. For now, even cotton from India is not welcome.  “C’ for Commerce” remains overshadowed by “K for Kashmir”, despite Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s plea to shift from geopolitics to geo-economics.

The relative calm in bilateral relations may or may not last long even as backchannel parleys take place at the level of the DGMOs. However, one perceives a welcome change in the entertainment world, though Indians are yet to welcome back Pakistani artists in Bollywood films.

But the pandemic remains very much on the minds and India’s handling of the second wave, the struggle over vaccine, oxygen and other shortages have dominated the narrative, not without criticism of the Indian authorities, especially what appears in international media outlets. The long queues for taking a vaccine, the floating dead bodies on the rivers are all there.

An interesting aside is one of the Indian critics of the government doubting the official data at home, but lapping up the official figures from Pakistan, to argue that Pakistan is doing much better in combating Covid. The fact of the matter is that like India’s Kumbh Mela and election rallies sans health precautions, people in Pakistan also throng the mosques without following the SOPs that the authorities prescribe, and ignore their violations.  The slackness is subcontinental.

Bollywood news

Amidst all this, the Bollywood-Lollywood (Lahore film industry) stars keep tab on each other’s welfare and well-being when the pandemic has hit both industries, as anywhere else.  

With tentative peace overtures, cross-border hateful rhetoric has reduced, giving way to empathy. Note is taken in the media of Alia Bhatt and some other Bollywood stars returning positive Covid tests and of the death of Shravan Rathod of the Nadim-Shravan composer duo. News about Big B Amitabh Bachchan and many in Bollywood contributing to the fight against Covid is also there  

By the way, no name figures from Lollywood, so far among those who have contributed to Pakistan's grim battle against the coronavirus infection. Is it that the Pakistani artistic fraternity is not coming forward or the government is not interested in co-opting them?

Zee OTT show

To return to the OTT revolution, India’s Zee has done a significant job in bringing the people of the two South Asian nations closer with its OTT programs. The latest announcement, on May 11, is of a series on story-telling and poetry reading, to be aired on the OTT platform Zee Theatre.

Directed by Sarmad Khoosat and Kanwal Khoosat, the show will feature the works of renowned writers including Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Qurratulain Hyder, Ismat Chughtai, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gulzar, Amrita Pritam, Munshi Premchand, Ghulam Abbas, Balwant Singh, Asad Mohammad Khan, Saadat Hasan Manto and Intizar Hussain. Among raconteurs will be Pakistani actress Mahira Khan who debuted in Bollywood opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Raees.  

According to Dawn newspaper (May 11, 2021), “The dramatic readings are a celebration of the writers who have dared to look into the eyes of society and pull the blindfolds off the South Asian public. They are a celebration of the works that remind us to look beyond what is shown to us.”

(The writer is the editor of thecommonwealthnews.com. The views are personal. He can be contacted at mahendraved07@gmail.com)