Desis beat the blues in times of COVID-19


An abundance of Indian entertainment in U.S. keeps spirits up during pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic, with its devastating effects on the world, has had people staying indoors a lot for more than eight months now. What do people do when they are at home? They watch TV.

And Desis beat the blues with the abundance of new and old content they can access on their sets. The pandemic has seemingly not deterred Indian Americans and other Desis from getting their daily fix of Indian entertainment. At least that is the case for age groups 30 and up. And Indian producers, directors and actors have delivered.

Virtually every household in the Indian American community in the U.S. subscribes to probably more than 100 channels from India. These channels with dynamic content – ranging from Bollywood to television productions to plays to news from different regions of India allows the Indian diaspora to stay home and continue enjoying media and entertainment as if Covid is not raging outside the door.

However, with lockdowns affecting film and TV productions the entertainment industry had to overcome several hurdles ranging from reducing production costs, to delivering consistent content.

Apart from films, events and traditional media (which includes print and radio) took the worst hit. Television, though, is on the road to recovery after nearly four months of stagnation.

Despite difficulties, there has not been a dearth of programming especially via the over-the-top (OTT) medium. Online streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar have also seen a surge of new subscribers since the pandemic and home quarantine started. These western outlets have been savvy in further increasing Indian content and in fact, creating new content.

Findings from research firm Parks Associates predictably reveal an increase in streaming video viewership during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The survey conducted between March 8th and April 3rd of 10,000 U.S. heads of broadband households, finds 76 per cent of them subscribe to an OTT service, increasing by roughly six million households since the first quarter of 2019.

Jitin Hingorani, founder and Festivals Director for DFW South Asian Film Festival and NYC South Asian Film Festival, believes Desis have been as thoroughly entertained if not more, during the pandemic.

“Indian entertainment in the US has been really on the rise,” he told Desi Talk. “OTT platforms have worked diligently to provide relevant content to the Indian community in the country. Production has been tough during this time but I have to applaud their efforts. There has not been a dearth of programming for the six months that we have been in this lockdown and I’m watching something new almost every single week,” Hingorani said.

According to him, even with new standards around health and filming, directors and producers are trying to shoot in a very safe way which takes up more energy and time and also costs more money. So there may be a long-term impact.

“If we continue going this route eventually, I think it is going to affect a lot of these shows because they may not be able to stay in business. Just because we’re saying production has resumed doesn’t mean that it’s at the same cost and at the same schedule that it used to be,” Hingorani added.

Anju Bhargava, founder of the non-profit Hindu American Seva Charities, told Desi Talk she has ‘an abundance’ of entertainment available during Covid, and so much choice that one cannot keep up with the varied Indian content.

“I subscribe to a box from a company in Canada prepaid for five years, very reasonable and I get a whole lot of Indian channels as well as US channels if I want to watch.”

She has “cut the chord” with cable television and has the Internet for her streaming service.

“Personally, I go in when I want to get my India fix, and Indian news, and I watch old classical songs. Though as yet I have not delved into the Indian soap operas because I don’t know which ones are good,” Bhargava said.

“And while it is true that the physical contact over chai-pani is missing, we have so many options of doing yoga, dance classes, what have you on Zoom, as well as the meetings online with friends and family,” Bhargava continued.

Archita Upadhyaya, a cosmetologist from Long Island, NY believes TV shows from India are her surviving crutch during the worldwide pandemic.

“The lack of consistent work has pushed me to the couch and in front of the television. If there hadn’t been something new to watch constantly, I would have gone crazy,” Upadhyaya says.

“There was a slight lull for about 2 months when we had to watch reruns of shows but it soon picked up,” Upadhyaya recalls, adding, “My husband, my mother-in-law and I cannot live without our daily dose of Indian shows. It helps us stay connected to India and our culture.”

Upadhyaya recently changed her channel pack and now subscribes to more than 200 Indian TV channels. “We should be grateful we get to watch something new. It serves as a distraction especially with no Navratri or Diwali celebrations this year.”

“I do Bollywood marathons in my free time,” Ruchi Chowdhry, an interior designer from Metuchen, NJ told DesiTalk.

Chowdhry subscribes to Netflix and Amazon Prime for her movie fix.

“There are so many new films and series (from India) lately that I am running behind now. I am surprised people can still shoot and get content out on time. I have to commend them for working so hard to get this done. And, it is not like the quality has decreased or anything. You really cannot see the effects of the pandemic in new shows from India.”





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