Why Tinseltown actresses are thumbing the small screen
Despite the success of fellow actors, stars like Kareena Kapoor seem to be highly reluctant to make the switch from big budget movies
If Hollywood's top-notchers - Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger and Julia Roberts, to cite just a few examples - have no hesitations about featuring in web series, why are Bollywood heroines vacillating from appearing on a spectrum of platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar?
Kareena Kapoor, it was reported, had agreed to play the lead in a series titled Poo, named after the peppy campus girl enacted by her in Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). The project seemed to be pretty much on board, as it was said to be a brainchild of Johar's recently-founded digital division.
However, Kareena's PR team hotly denied that she was taking the plunge into the domain of web series. For her part, contradictorily enough, the actress had earlier stated that she has no issues with series, provided the content is as strong and binge-worthy as her husband Saif Ali Khan's Sacred Games.
Evidently, after knocking out a big screen super-hit with the dramedy Good Newzz, Kareena would rather continue with feature films and will be seen in the potential multiplex hits Angrezi Medium in the company of Irrfan Khan, Baljit Singh Chadha with Aamir Khan, and the Mughal period opus Takht, being helmed by Johar with a hefty star cast including Ranveer Singh, Vicky Kaushal and Anil Kapoor. Although she has made sporadic appearances on reality shows, presumably, Kareena's logic is: why shift to series at this juncture? Similarly, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Kangana Ranaut have chosen to stick to feature films so far.
Obviously, forsaking the big screen would amount to reducing their market equity. Notionally, it would seem that series - that are now accessible even on cellphones - are a comedown. Be that as it may, Kareena's sister Karisma Kapoor, who was slated to make a comeback in a prestigious film with the Yash Raj banner, has hopped on happily to the series bandwagon. Ever since, Dangerous Ishq (2010), a reincarnation thriller flopped, she has been extra-careful about her choices - so a series it is, which happens to be right up her alley.
Produced by Ekta Kapoor's AltBalaji platfrom, the series titled Mentalhood deals with the pleasures and anxieties that come with motherhood. Ever since her divorce with businessman Sanjay Kapur in 2016, Karisma, a single mother of two, has, in fact, wrapped up the shoot which was slated to be released late last year.
So why the delay? It seems Ekta Kapoor wasn't quite satisfied with the final cut and felt it wouldn't connect with the 'mainstream viewership'. Hence, the series is being tweaked in the edit and scripting.
Meanwhile, Priyanka Chopra, who became a global name with the series Quantico, was made an offer she certainly couldn't refuse. She has signed on for Citadel, an espionage thriller, co-starring Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden.
The point is that like it or not, the streaming channels are fast becoming a source of alternative entertainment. More players are entering the fray, like MX Player from The Times of India media group.
And series are being directed even by frontline directors like Kabir Khan, whose The Forgotten Army has just premiered after an extensive media campaign.
Curiously, male stars aren't as wary about double-tasking on the multiplex and the home entertainment screens. Besides Saif Ali Khan, Emraan Hashmi (Bard of Blood), Vivek Oberoi (The Inside Edge) and Manoj Bajpai (The Family Man) have already been on the small screen, while Abhishek Bachchan, Bobby Deol and Akshay Kumar will make their digital debuts with Breathe 2, Class of 83 and The End respectively.
Star names do have a loyal fan base, and serve in boosting the TRP ratings. Concurrently, artistes who are relegated to supporting parts in big-budget features get an opportunity to shine in lead roles, the prime examples being Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime and Pankaj Tripathi in Mirzapur.
Where the streaming channels fall short, sadly, are in the acquisition of the masterworks and imperishable entertainers of yore. Perhaps market research, which is not always reliable, has led to the cavalier omission of so many of the yesteryear greats. For instance, Dev Anand's entire ouevre, produced by his home banner Navketan Films, is conspicuous by its absence. The main source for the golden oldies remain YouTube and the few surviving DVD rental libraries.
To return, in this scenario to the curious case of Kareena Kapoor's thumbs-down to the web series Poo, this can be largely explained by the unfortunate fact that the shelf-life of heroines is way shorter than that of heroes. At the age of 39, if she were to risk entering the digital space, clearly that would spell bad news. After all, the rule-makers of Bollywood have always believed that size matters; the bigger the screen, the better the profits.
In the event, the streaming channels will have to wait for Bollywood's A-list heroines till the rules are rewritten.