It all began when a few Bollywood-loving writers and friends heard that Studio 18 and YouTube had come together to release Striker on the Internet the same day as the release in India. Immediately, tweets started flying to plan a time that we could get together and do a watchalong. Directed by Chandan Arora and starring Siddharth, Anupam Kher, Aditya Pancholi, Padmapriya, Nicollete Bird, Ankur Vikal, and Vidya Maldave, Striker is the first Bollywood film to be released on YouTube and we were all excited to be able to see the film during its first weekend. (Usually we do watchalongs after films have released on DVD or we are going back to visit old favorites!) Organized by Beth Watkins with help from Sujoy Singha, the watchalong soon grew from the 4 of us to over 25 people in 9 countries including the US, UK, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Australia, and Abu Dhabi. One person tweeted, “Looks like #strikerwatchalong will turn out to be a desi version of a Super Bowl party!” On Sunday, February 7th at 6ish pm GMT, we all logged on our computers (with one on her iPhone) and Google Wave, got our popcorn, beer, and chocolate, and were ready to chat and watch.
Though only about 10 people were in the conversation, many more were enjoying experiencing the high, lows and shocks of Striker at the same time on Youtube. Only those living in the US had to pay the rental fee of $4.99; for others the film was free. The quality was outstanding and the subtitles, though quick in places, were very good. During the chat, plot points were discussed, the fabulousness of the 70s shirts was mentioned a time or two and the music, the cinematography, especially of the carrom games, and the performances were all praised. Also, by the end some of us wanted to learn how to play carrom. If we had more time we were going to have a tutorial on the basics from Sujoy Singha, who tweeted after the watchalong was over, “It was an awesome experience”.
We all agreed we would do again, Beth said,”I really love doing watchalongs anyway – I love TALKING about films with people, sharing ideas in addition to the social aspect of movie-watching – but this seemed like a great way to let the filmmakers know how much support there is for legal access to new films. I was really delighted at how many people wanted to participate AND at how well the youtube streaming worked. The film looked great!”
Praising the release on the internet Jocelyn Holler Smith said, “YouTube and Studio18 are ahead of the game with their collaboration to release Striker internationally. Thanks to their foresight a whole new audience–and revenue–were available for the film. With over 20 members from around the world participating in the watchalong, viewers made history and brought new awareness about the film to the international community.”
“Events such as the Striker watchalong signal how much of a transglobal commodity Hindi cinema has become”, stated Bollywood journalist Steven Baker. “Pay per view screenings on platforms such as YouTube seem the ideal way of ensuring hatke films are seen by international audiences without having to find overseas distributors or finance expensive marketing campaigns.” About the film itself he added, “I really liked the realism of Bombay. The characters, the places, the local trains. Especially with so many films shot in studios.”
Evelyn Tu agreed saying, “Striker is gorgeously filmed, and Siddharth has given a powerful and subtle performance. It would be a real shame for Striker to be unavailable to a worldwide audience while the excitement for it is still building. Releasing immediately for rent on YouTube changes the distribution game. Also, for viewers who are not from India, watching as a connected group allows us to clarify things that may be obvious to others.”
Many were excited about the availability on YouTube because they do not have regular access to Hindi films where they live. Katherine Matthews commented, “I live in a small community, and the nearest cinema showing Indian films is at least an hour’s drive away — and there’s no assurance that you’d get to see a non-mainstream film like Striker anyway.