Is OTT streaming impacting our memory?

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Published: Sun 26 Dec 2021, 7:59 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Dec 2021, 8:01 PM

There was a Bollywood movie called Kahaani. A big hit. It seems like only yesterday that I watched it in Dubai Mall, after a lot of hassle getting parking space (I wasn’t driving obviously, a friend was) at Cinema Parking — but, actually, it was in 2012, which is quite a while back. The idea of the movie remains fresh in my mind (I even remember what a few of us chatted about during the intermission: mostly how it was someone in our group’s first Bollywood movie and how much she was enjoying it). It had a (my hometown) Calcutta setting. Mega star Mr Baritone Bachchan recited a Tagore poem. There was a heavily-pregnant Vidya Balan walking around the city, looking for her missing husband, with the help of a police chappie (played by a popular Bengali actor, who my father hates but I love). And she was not really pregnant; she was a wearing a prosthetic belly (that is revealed at the end, so, yes, in case you’ve not watched Kahaani and were planning to, this is a spoiler, my apologies).


Sushmita Bose

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In fact, I was so sure that I had the film firmly ingrained in my head that I’ve not watched the DVD of Kahaani I picked up at a garage sale — three years ago — at a throwaway price.

A few days back, I played Kahaani on Netflix, because I needed to watch something while having dinner; something that wouldn’t need much concentration… Also, I had just been forwarded a photo of Calcutta dressed up for Christmas, so I wanted to virtually visit the city that I’ve not had occasion to visit physically (because of Covid).

Exactly five minutes into the movie, I realised I had forgotten everything about it — except the bits I just mentioned above. It was like watching a new film with a hazy notion that the pregnant leading lady is not pregnant. And yet, I remember movies from the 1950s and 60s and 70s that I watched in black-and-white, one every weekend, on a tiny television screen way back in the 80s. They are memories as crisp as a Dubai winter morning: little turns of phrases, how a cup fell from the hero’s hand, at what precise juncture a song was inserted (if it was Bollywood — or something non-Bollywood like The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady or Annie).

So, what has happened is that all narratives of moving visuals I’ve watched ever since the onset of the concept known as bingeing — around the same time Kahaani released — has robbed me of the muscle memory I had mastered (possibly because of my hyper love of anything celluloid) around reel life. The deluge of content available, consumed back to back, has made everything transient, stuff that never got time to form roots.

A few months ago, I watched the wonderful 2011 film Jane Eyre (the version with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender) on a streaming app. Exactly a couple of weeks later, I watched it again — this time with a friend, to give him company. The second time around, I felt I was almost watching it for the first time, I remembered practically nothing except the few lines that I had written down while watching it a fortnight ago (like “I’ve a strange feeling with regard to you, as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave, I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap” — an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s original lines). In the intervening two weeks between my two watches, I had flitted through a gamut of movies and serials, some of which I really liked, but none of which I remembered distinctly. They had all fallen by the wayside down memory lane.

I’ve earlier written about how the cinematic experience — visiting a movie theatre on a certain red-letter day I’d be excited about for at least a week before the outing, standing in line to purchase a ticket, being held in utter thraldom for the next few hours while action unfolded on the silver screen, etc — is now lost to us. It’s become this humdrum act about asking myself, “Hmmm, what should I watch next?” while giving into bad posture on a couch at home, selecting something from the pile of recommendations that pop up on auto-prompt… most times, watching it for 15 minutes and then, if it doesn’t catch my fancy, moving on to something else.

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