The direct-to-streamer release is now a thing – and one of the best things that has happened to the movies of late.
Streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar and Zee5 are increasingly littered with films that would either have been laughed out of the theatres or struggled against bigger releases. Zee5 has such titles as The Sholay Girl and Posham Pa. Hotstar recently welcomed Kanpuriye. Netflix has several titles that have bypassed the traditional distribution route, the latest being Tarun Mansukhani’s Drive.
The heist thriller, Mansukhani’s first movie since the gay-themed comedy Dostana in 2008, has announced various release dates over the years, failing to keep any of them. Drive has finally turned up on Netflix, where it has the same status as the airline movie: it’s one of many options, and it’s worth a skip.
Drive stars Jacqueline Fernandez as Tara, the oomph-oozing leader of a car racing gang that carries out heists when not burning up the asphalt. Tara and her posse are eyeing a gold consignment stolen by the mysterious criminal King. The latest entrant to the group, played by Sushant Singh Rajput, comes up with various schemes to get to the metal.
Meanwhile, a corrupt bureaucrat (Vibha Chibber) and her henchman (Pankaj Tripathi) have to co-operate with an investigating officer (Boman Irani), who is also on the trail of King and the gold. The grubby-handed duo have hidden their ill-gotten gains in the basement of Rashtrapati Bhavan (yes, the same one). The convoluted script finds a way to link King’s gold with the Rashtrapati Bhavan trove. As identities are forged and CCTV cameras are hacked, the movie sputters its way to oblivion.
The so-bad-it’s-bad movie is an impoverished version of Abbas-Mustan’s thrillers, if that’s even possible, and is briefly enlivened by meme-worthy moments. Take your pick: Rashtrapati Bhavan as the most easily penetrable building in all of India; Jacqueline Fernandez as a stiletto-wearing braless wonder; the mismatch between Sushant Singh Rajput’s voice and his lip movements; a street car race that is nearly won by a retrofitted Tata Nano.
The appearance of Drive on Netflix appears to be part of a larger deal between the film’s producer, Dharma Productions, and the streaming platform. Among the projects that Dharma will release through Netflix is a documentary by Amit Madhesiya and Shirley Abraham on Anand Sheela, the controversial factotum of the godman Rajneesh.
Sheela was a key figure in the popular Netflix docu-series Wild Wild Country. As Rajneesh’s personal secretary, Sheela was the prime mover behind the Rajneeshpuram commune in Oregon in the United States in the early 1980s. She was accused of several crimes, including arson, mass poisoning and election fraud, and briefly served time before migrating to Switzerland. The documentary, which includes conversations between Sheela and Dharma head Karan Johar, promises to reveal unexplored facets of her personality.
Netflix used to be the preferred destination for independent Indian filmmakers who were unable to release their movies or documentaries or were unwilling to submit to the country’s censorship laws. On Netflix are such examples of artistic expression as Autohead, Gandu, Celluloid Man, Ask the Sexpert and Jaoon Bata Kahan Ae Dil – but also such non-starters as Chopsticks and Brij Mohan Amar Rahe! Drive belongs to the latter category – the kind of film that didn’t deserve a theatrical release in the first place and is a tiny element in the formless universe of the streaming platform. Here, both gems and junk can co-exist, with the sorting left to the subscriber.
Hotstar too recently welcomed its version of Drive, Ashish Aryan’s Kanpuriye. The would-be comedy is crippled by confused plotting and indifferent performances, and would have been a direct-to-video release in the pre-streaming era. Such films don’t pinch the pocket when they wash up on streamers as much as they would have if they were released in the cinemas. Subscribers can click on them and choose to linger, or shut the link and flee towards something better. Since streaming platforms don’t share viewership data, no one will be any the wiser.