Updated: Feb 23
With the pandemic assuming monstrous proportions in India last month, it had to impact the universe of media, content, and writing as well
Images (from L to R): Twitter account @taran_adarsh, screengrab of YouTube video by CRED, BIGHIT MUSIC
April 2021 will go down in history as the month of India’s worst health and humanitarian crisis. We don’t know what May and the subsequent months have in store, but their predecessor has already shown us a lifetime’s worth of doom and gloom in its mere span of 30 days.
As expected, the news from the domain of content, writing, and media had to bear the effects of it all, with film, TV, and ad shoots cancelled and whatnot.
What’s more, we also learned a lot about the dos and don’ts of PSA messaging for such a time.
While that’s a topic that warrants a separate blog post, here’s a snapshot of 10 highlights from the Indian and international content industry last month and what each of these means for content writers and creators:
Who would have thought a road-raging Rahul Dravid would bring us some cheer and hope in these dark, desolate times?
When the cricket legend cursed, cussed, fumed, and broke rear-view mirrors in Cred’s latest ad timed to IPL 2021, we happily cheered for his transition from a gentleman to (adorable) mini-Hulk, even if it was for less than a minute.
So much, his concluding line “Indiranagar ka gunda hoon main” has become the catchphrase of the year. (Special “credit” to Tanmay Bhat and team for writing the ad.)
The credit-card-payment app, known more for its quirky commercials featuring veteran Indian personalities than for its service in general, didn’t stop at this. It soon followed up this viral ad with another, featuring 90s singing sensation Kumar Sanu as—God knows why—a serenading insurance agent. No complaints, though, given the soothing balm to the soul his voice and effortless charm proved to be.
Interestingly, Cred wasn’t the first to post these ads on social media. Current cricket icon Virat Kohli originally tweeted the Rahul Dravid one. Just like how rapper Badshah did soon after for the Kumar Sanu commercial. I’m clueless about the rationale behind this strategy, but it seems to be the contributing factor to the ads’ virality.
Any sensationalism-versus-substance debate was soon minimised when Cred founder, Kunal Shah, teamed up with healthcare-fundraising platform Milaap and raised crores of rupees for some much-needed oxygen concentrators, mainly through members’ donations of “Cred coins”. Apparently, these reward points multiply at a rate faster than one can utilise them on spends, so users found it wiser to give them away for the cause.
We don’t know what the road ahead is like for Cred in terms of revenues and performance. But it would be unwise for it to yield to its detractors, drop its wacky style of advertising, and settle for Jim Sarbh reading out the product description from a teleprompter (though that wouldn’t be a bad idea either). When it comes to content, Cred has, indeed, come a long way.
When chyawanprash lands you in a soup
Image: Hindustan Times (26 March 2021)
Dabur found itself in a hot PR mess after Akshay Kumar, the brand ambassador for its chyawanprash, tested positive for Covid-19. He later found himself hospitalised for it.
It wouldn’t have been an issue if the ayurvedic giant would have stuck to calling its chyawanprash a mere strength-building food. But it had actually gone a step ahead and claimed that the product possessed immunity-boosting powers—of the kind that could protect its consumer from the dangerous viral disease. The Bollywood star had featured in a print communication that endorsed these proclamations.
Naturally, critics and trolls were quick to upload screenshots of the ad in response to the actor’s tweet about his diagnosis.
While the claim itself sounds blatantly misleading at the outset, here’s an article by a medical expert debunking it to bits. Dabur’s response to this is awaited.
Unverified claims are a huge no-no, especially when it comes to a territory as sensitive as health and medicine. Here’s hoping Dabur learns from its mistakes and “celebrity” ambassadors exercise caution and judgment during endorsements and the like.
Kindle going Vell-a
Image: Screenshot of YouTube video by Amazon KDP
In desi parlance, “Vella” (pronounced vay-laa) has connotations closer to “idleness”.
We don’t know what Amazon was thinking when it rolled out its own version of Wattpad—one that remunerates authors—and called it Kindle Vella (in all likelihood, pronounced vell-aa). But we can’t help wondering if the e-commerce giant is pitching it to influence people so they can learn to quell boredom using books and literature first.
Amazon seems to have a strategy in place to achieve this probable aim. Unlike Kindle Unlimited, which features books in their entirety, Vella is a serialised-fiction platform. This means it will enable authors to publish their stories one chapter or episode at a time, using the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) interface. Call it the web-series equivalent of books.
Readers get to peruse the first few episodes for free. If hooked and intrigued—which is clearly the effect Amazon’s going for—they can unlock the next episode and then more by purchasing and redeeming a particular number of tokens, based on the episode length.
To spice up things, Amazon will let readers interact with authors on Vella through features such as Follow and the Thumbs Up. Readers can even “Fave” a story they enjoy—something Kindle doesn’t allow yet. Amazon will then include the most Faved stories in the Kindle Vella store and, thus, boost their promotion. As a cherry on the icing, readers can browse through Author’s Note for details of the next episode or a peek into their favourite authors’ thoughts in general.
Vella looks like a winning proposition for authors, considering they get 50% of the token amount as payment, in addition to a launch bonus for instances of positive reader activity and engagement. Also, while the service will open to readers in the upcoming months, authors don’t have to wait to upload their works and can do so right away.
But then, should authors decide to take their stories to Amazon.com, they will have to remove them from Vella. So, it only makes sense that, unless Amazon overturns this condition, authors should use Vella for publishing only those stories they don’t intend to anywhere else and are apt for such a platform.
Readers, too, should withhold their celebrations for now. Especially if they live outside of America, which is where the launch will take place first. There’s no consensus on when it’ll arrive in other nations, including India. Secondly, it’ll be an iOS-only app first, which means Android users would be left out of the equation for now. Though, it’s expected Amazon will iron out these issues and go wider in time to capture potential markets. And once Vella does launch in India, Amazon should brace itself for some memes on this front :D
Meme maker or book author, both kinds of content creators are set to have their hands full with this development. We’re only waiting for Vella to dock on Indian shores.
Bollywood directors Raj and DK have announced the launch of a platform that will help budding filmmakers create indie movies or series.
Called D2R Indie, the platform is part of the duo’s production house D2R Films and will produce or back micro-projects that can be easily shot at home.
Details on how filmmakers, as well as screenwriters, can approach the platform are awaited.
There’s no doubt that initiatives such as D2R Indie will boost small-budget film production in India. For it to be a true success, it needs to be accessible to all (through websites, contact forms, and the like) and freely share resources to help upcoming talent with the necessary know-how.
Only then can it enable the democratisation of film production, presentation, and promotion and make it an approachable process. Budget or location should not be a constraint in this regard.
Cosmetics are injurious to animal health
A heartbreaking animated short film highlighting the plight of animals used for product testing is gaining acclaim everywhere.
Save Ralph, written and directed by Spencer Susser, shows the gut-wrenching experience undergone by a rabbit named Ralph (voiced by New Zealand filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi) as he’s compelled to become a lab rat for the testing of various cosmetics. Despite losing an eye and an ear in the process, he cannot afford to retire from this work, as it pays his bills.
You can watch the nearly-4-minute short below.
It’s a pity that so many of the cosmetics we use are guilty of animal testing. Here’s a list of the top cruelty-free beauty brands in India so you can decide accordingly. But considering these are only a few products out there, the best solution would be for governments worldwide to ban and stop the horrid practice altogether.
In order to influence policymakers, create awareness, and make them realise, we have to leverage the power of a medium as popular as cinema. Hence, the necessity of platforms such as D2R Indie and the democratisation of filmmaking. Here’s praying Save Ralph achieves what it has set out to do and makes the much-needed impact.
Cleartrip now part of Flipkart’s territory?
Flipkart announced its acquisition of online travel aggregator Cleartrip, which has been going through turbulent times since the pandemic. The purchase amount currently stands undisclosed but is reportedly at around ₹300 crore ($40 million).
The e-commerce giant already offers flight, bus, and train bookings, as does its biggest competitor, Amazon. It will operate Cleartrip as a separate brand and retain its staff as well.
Does this deal spell the end of standalone travel brands? Does it mean a travel business can only survive from now on if it retails in multiple product/service categories? The pandemic has, indeed, raised these unsettling questions.
So, if you’re a content writer or creator specialising in travel, it would be more advisable to diversify your niche. This is not to suggest you shouldn’t run a travel-only website or blog. If you have the content ideas that are suited to the present situation, go for it. But you should try to be prepared for any uncertainties that may come along the way.
The Intern to go Indian
Nancy Meyers’ 2015 blockbuster, The Intern, is getting a Hindi remake. While the Hollywood production starred Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in the lead roles, Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone will play their counterparts in the Bollywood version, which will be directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma (Tevar, Badhaai Ho).
For those who haven’t watched it, The Intern is about a retired septuagenarian Ben Whittaker (De Niro) who applies for an internship at an online fashion website helmed by the very workaholic Jules Ostin (Hathaway). The corporate comedy-drama depicts the synergy and bond the two characters develop in the course of their work together.
Initially, Rishi Kapoor was to play the titular role, but his unfortunate demise last year compelled the new casting. This will be Bachchan and Padukone’s third movie together after Aarakashan and Piku. (The latter is not to be mistaken with PiKu & ViRu :D). Piku, too, arrived in 2015.
Padukone is also the film’s co-producer, with Sunir Kheterpal under his banner, Athena, and Warner Bros. Pictures (India). The movie is eyeing a 2022 release.
Remakes hold tremendous market potential, especially when they’re done tastefully and with interesting improvements made to the original material. The Intern remake, too, holds plenty of promise, especially with its lead cast.
Moreover, with the demand for film, TV, and OTT content burgeoning, especially because of WFH lifestyles, producers would have to scour books and overseas content for ideas. And even then, it may not be enough, I daresay.
So, take this as a sign that there has never been a better time to be a writer! Especially if you know how to adapt already existing material and can think of spinoffs and sequels, too. Check out my post on writing prompts gleaned from the Malayalam hit The Great Indian Kitchen and get cracking on your own story!
Update on Wednesday, 23 February 2022: Remakes aren’t a bad thing by themselves. Every movie industry does them. But if an entire movie industry is only churning out remakes without bringing out any original content, we have a problem. Ideally, there should be a mix of everything: original screenplays, adaptations, remakes, and more.
Bourdain’s last dished out
When celebrated chef Anthony Bourdain passed away in June 2018, he was apparently in the process of compiling a book. One that would encompass his favourite travel-and-food spots from around the globe. His assistant Laurie Woolever was helping him put it all together. Following his demise, she took it upon herself to complete the book, using his TV shows as a reference.
Almost three years after the unfortunate event, the book is out now. Spanning recommendations from 43 countries, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide is a 469-page “atlas of the world as seen through [Bourdain’s] eyes”, as Woolever puts it in the introduction.
Despite the lull in travel due to the pandemic, bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has placed an order for just as many copies as for each of Bourdain’s previous written works. Such is the legacy left behind by the man, and it only speaks volumes of the importance of humility, expressing yourself, and doing great work in your lifetime.
BTS melt butter
No, this K-Pop group isn’t switching to a food or dairy business (though, I’m sure, we’d be happy to lap up any fare they bring out). Butter is the name of the boy band’s second English single that will come out on 21 May.
We don’t know how the song would turn out, but BTS is doing some cool shit with their marketing.
In a simple yet mind-blowing way to promote their number, the band live-streamed an hour-long video on YouTube, merely showing an animated slab of butter melting, with some background noise in between in the form of utensils clanging and so on. The number of views for this thing: 14 million and counting!
Dairy brand Amul devoted one of its topicals to this event.
The seven-member band has also tied up with McDonald’s to roll out a special Chicken McNuggets-based meal that will be up for orders in nearly 50 countries, including India, from around May and June.
If there’s any takeaway for content writers and creators for this, it’s merely the unusual way of content promotion. I really wish I could steal BTS’s marketing/promotions person if I can afford it!
Oscars go on
Keeping its revised date as it announced last year, the 93rd Academy Awards took place 2 months later than usual to honour the best of 2020.
Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland swept the key awards of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, while Anthony Hopkins bagged Best Actor for The Father. Here’s the full list of winners.
I’m yet to catch up on all the winning and nominated films, but there are two trends that are clearly evident.
One, with Zhao being the first non-white woman and the second woman in the history of the Oscars to bag Best Director, it seems the Academy is finally realising the need for more inclusivity. At the same time, it’s also being criticised for choosing Hopkins over the late Chadwick Boseman for Best Actor.
Secondly, while the event did have a red-carpet tradition, there wasn’t any audience per se, barring the nominees. Nor did the show boast any musical or comedy performances. The spotlight was strictly on the awards, nothing else.
A pandemic and a rights movement can, indeed, change things. Here’s hoping the Oscars keep evolving with the times, become more inclusive, and honour the best and truly deserving.