On Monday, Kajol announced that she is making her web series debut with an upcoming project that will stream on Disney+ Hotstar. It isn't exactly her streaming debut (she appeared in the Netflix film Tribhanga last year) but definitely her first foray into the web series space. And she is just the latest in a long and star-studded list of 90s heroines who have moved to OTT for their proverbial second innings.
From Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla to Raveena Tandon and Sushmita Sen, the OTT space currently is replete with successful female actors from the 1990s who are not just appearing but headlining shows here.
Karisma Kapoor was the first leading actor from the 90s to headline her own web series when she appeared in the AltBalaji and Zee5 show Mentalhood two years ago, and she is set to return to OTT with another project soon. Since then, the streaming has become more populated with 90s heroines. Sushmita Sen debuted with Arya (Hotstar), Raveena Tandon with Aranyak (Netflix), Madhuri Dixit with The Fame Game (Netflix), and most recently Sonali Bendre with Broken News (Zee5). Juhi Chawla will soon be seen in her OTT debut with Amazon Prime Video's Hush Hush later this year, and Shilpa Shetty will be seen in Rohit Shetty's Indian Police Force on the same platform.
Shilpa Shetty will be seen alongside Sidharth Malhotra and Vivek Oberoi in Rohit Shetty's Indian Police Force.
Many argue that the switch has a lot to do with the fact that on streaming shows, the concept of shelf-life for an actress does not exist. On the other hand, in films, leading actresses are still harldy ever over 40. As a line from Madhuri's OTT debut The Fame Game aptly puts, "Hero kabr mein paaon latkaaye hai par heroine 20 saal ki chahiye (Hero is on the verge of death but wants a 20-year-old heroine)." Reacting to this Sonali Bendre, who played a 45-year-old journalist in the Zee5 show Broken News, says, "As an artiste, you live a certain amount of life. You go through certain experiences that shape you. That's what makes you an artiste and just when you are getting there is kind of when it stops. It's not fair at all. So, it's lovely to get this opportunity to be able to use what you have learnt."
For some actors, it's the challenge and thrill of doing something new and different on a new medium that draws them to the streaming space. Madhuri Dixit says, "It's great that even after 35 years, I am debuting with something. It's wonderful because I am a student of cinema. I love learning. Every day, I wake up and feel I am going to learn something new today. For me, it's a different language of making films. It's a different system in the way it operates. It's quite different to be on OTT."
And of course, the sight of seeing their contemporaries and male counterparts doing well draws some. Many of the heroes these women worked with have also made their OTT debuts. Saif Ali Khan was in Sacred Games while Ajay Devgn in Rudra. Talking about this, Kajol says, "Exploring new formats is always a challenge; but it's a great thing as I love to take challenges head-on. Being an avid fan of digital series, the concept has always been intriguing; and after following cool shows such as Aarya and Rudra, I knew there was no other platform than Disney+ Hotstar to start my series journey."
But while many would feel the actors would be grateful for the opportunity, they believe it is still too little and only 'the beginning'. As Sonali Bendre puts it, "About time this happened! It's high time. I just think it is just about starting. It's not enough. There should be so much more." And the audience certainly would want that. In the comments section of Kajol's announcement video were fans requesting several other 90s actresses to come to OTT as well. And there is no doubt that streaming platforms are listening. With a star, they get a big name and if it's her 'debut', marketing the show becomes all the more easier. It's a win-win situation for everyone.