2020 wrap: Year of crime and criminals in Indian OTT space


NEW DELHI: From real-life tales to stories rooted in fiction, this was the year of crime in the OTT space, as the genre emerged the clear big winner. Murder mysteries, underworld sagas, and terrorism were popular themes as always, but there were a few new entrants in the world of on-screen crime, too, with the likes of phishing and securities scam becoming central to the plot in hit web shows.

The fact that crime has been the clear winner this year in the Indian OTT race is evident from the IMDB top 10 list of Indian web series of 2020, based on ratings. Eight out of the 10 are crime-themes shows, led by Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story right at the top. The only two non-crime shows in the list are Panchayat, a satire, at the second spot, and Bandish Bandits, a romantic musical at number four. The other shows in the list are Special Ops, Mirzapur Season 2, Asur, Paatal Lok, High, Abhay Season 2 and Aarya.

“I think the genre that was explored a lot more (was) the crime drama and thriller. The genres were exposed quite effectively, through the kinds of shows that came out on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Eros Now. This genre got a lot more share of voice in terms of overall genres,” Ali Hussein, CEO, Eros Now, told IANS.

The reason behind the success of the genre, according to Ali, is that “it was unexposed” so far.

While some storytellers took cue from real life crimes or scams, there were some that picked unconventional subjects like phishing (Jamtara). Others added fresh twists to subjects that had been explored before — like Special Ops did to the anti-terror war, Paatal Lok did to the underworld saga, or Aashram did while exposing fraud godmen.

Crime was all around in the OTT space this year. In some cases, the genre facilitated novel storytelling. In the quirky thriller The Gone Game, for instance, the entire story, happening during lockdown, unfolds through the lens of cameras on laptop and phone screens, besides CCTV footages. Asur, on the other hand, blended mythology and crime to fashion an unusual dark thriller. JL50 used science fiction and time travel as a basis to narrate a story of crime and suspense.

“This year saw some great web shows and platforms experimenting with new genres. Driven by the objective of bringing impactful, relatable, and captivating stories, OTT platforms have an edge when it comes to creating innovative content,” said Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji and Group COO, Balaji Telefilms Ltd.

“At ALTBalaji, the best performing genres currently are crime and thrillers, young romance, and urban drama. Our crime thrillers including, ‘Bicchoo Ka Khel’, ‘Mum Bhai’, ‘Dark 7 White’, received appreciation from fans and critics alike, and are amongst the most-watched shows on our platform currently,” he added.

The lure of the crime drama was also about interesting characters that the genre brought forth. There were Kaleen Bhaiya and Munna Bhaiya (essayed by Pankaj Triparthi and Divyenndu Sharma respectively) returning in Mirzapur 2 to define the smalltown don with a raw edge as India has rarely ever seen in mainstream before, just as there was Pratik Gandhi entering the OTT space to make the true story of Harshad Mehta unforgettably gripping in Scam 1992.

Bobby Deol as Kashipur wale Baba and Chandan Roy Sanyal as his sidekick Bhopa swamy portrayed the fraud godmen with a contemporary edge in Aashram, while Abhishek Banerjee’s Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok took the edesi’ contract killer to the next level.

The notion of crime and criminals grew more psychological, too, thanks to the fact that OTT allows wild experimentation. Abhay 2, for instance, explored the act of solving a crime in a different way — the protagonist (Kunal Kemmu) is an officer who solves crimes by imagining he is committing the crime — to get into the mind of the killer.

In Arya, Sushmita Sen as the titular Arya Sareen takes over the crime empire of her husband after he is killed. Abhishek Bachchan in Breathe: Into The Shadows is an affluent psychiatrist whose daughter is kidnapped. Only, it is revealed the doctor is himself the kidnapper — he suffers from multiple personality disorder.

Breaking down the genre success story, Ferzad Palia, Head, Voot Select, Youth, Music and English Entertainment, Viacom18, said: “It is great to see that content is coming of age, and people are experimenting with diverse genres, but crime and thriller still remain the very clear dominant genre. It is treated differently, and you also have some different kind of series and different genre of stories which sporadically got the fancy of the audience.”

In the same vein, Ajit Thakur, CEO, streaming service aha, added: “The OTT audience definitely commands newer and fresher content across genres. At the same time, there is space for mainstream content as well. Basically, OTT demands diverse content but there’s space for mainstream content as well.”

“I don’t think there’s any specific genre that stood out but crime and thrillers are in general popular and always work. But I think every good comedy that came this year received a good amount of appreciation,” Thakur said.

According to Palia, 2020 was a demonstration of what’s to come. “(The year is) Like a trailer. The next year, and the year after, content will be scaled up all players,” he said.