“So, when you change your password here in Ahmedabad, I can still watch it in Kolkata?” asked Baba, his fifth question in a row.
Since childhood, Didi and I have been the ones with pestering questions for our father. The man who has raised us with a liberal mind and a loving heart, has patiently answered every query we’ve had – from how bridges are built to how to deal with a boy bullying us in class. But now, he has become the kid curious about his shiny new toy, the streaming services on his phone.
When Ma and Baba came to visit me this summer, I installed the Amazon Prime and Netflix apps on his mobile phone, thinking he’d watch the odd movie sometimes. I wasn’t expecting it to boomerang.
Since then, my Baba has become a teenager who might live in the same house with his parents but who the folks know nothing about.
He walks around with headphones glued to his skull, a movie constantly playing on his phone. In the last week or two, he must have seen a score or more, each worse than its predecessor. He has patiently finished Tiger Zinda Hai, Sultan, even Padmaavat. With every movie’s end, he comes into my room with a short, two-minute review. “Kuch bhi bolo, but I love Bhansali’s frame and imagination.” Then after he finished watching Priyanka Chopra’s Baywatch, he couldn’t stop smiling. I could no longer stay quiet, so I asked him if he loved it. “Priyanka was a drug lord in this one, can you believe it? I told you she would be something one day,” he said, proud of his prophecy. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him how ironic his statement was.
A self-proclaimed psephologist, Baba’s second most favourite thing after his grandchildren is deducing political moves around the world.
Another time he asked me who had composed the music for Sultan. He had just heard “Jag ghoomiya” and was mighty impressed. It’s like Baba discovered Bollywood for the first time. Prior to this, he only showed interest in films during our rare family outings to PVR when we watched Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Lagaan.
To be honest, I’d hoped as a bhodrolok, he would be watching Bengali movies on offer. Tollywood has consistently dished out better fare to its audiences over the decades, with a clever mix of both arthouse and commercial cinema. And the streaming sites have some amazing classics too. But Baba has found a trick to balance all his bingeing needs – he watches a Bengali movie, mostly starring comeback king Prosenjit Chatterjee aka Bumba Da, in the daytime. Post evening, he starts a Bollywood film and by the following morning, finishes it as well. “Harry met Sejal ka kya scene hai?” he asked me one day, as if I were that shady pirated CD seller dude at Palika Bazar.
Back in the day, retirement used to mean a lot of things. Senior men and women picked up on an old hobby like gardening, started reading books and newspapers with a renewed vigour, walked twice a day in their neighbourhood parks, and spent leisurely hours with friends over tea. For most women of the past generations, who’ve been homemakers, this was the golden period: When they could spend quality time with their spouses, without the additional pressures of work commitments or young children that demanded hands-on care.
But thanks to streaming sites, the idea of a peaceful retirement has been flipped on its head. My poor Ma gets no part of Baba’s day. He only appears to eat or have tea with us. The only time he really does pay attention to his family is when my toddler and niece ask him to cook some noodles or bake a pudding. But then, grandchildren are always special.
Even then, not a single screen moment is wasted. As the water boils or the milk simmers, he watches videos titled “Pakistan media’s reaction to Indian news” on YouTube. A self-proclaimed psephologist, Baba’s second most favourite thing after his grandchildren is deducing political moves around the world. And he is content with me as his pupil for the time being as he misses his friends back in Kolkata who wait for him every evening to give them a lowdown on Modi or Mamata’s potential upcoming policies. The other day, as I went to him with an existential question – whether to join the editorial ratrace by joining a company again or continue to be a sleepless freelancer at the mercy of that same world – he completely ignored it and explained to me why China can never wage a war with India for the next 50 years and why the South China Sea dispute is the only real concern we should have.
But my real concern is my father. I’ve been through this phase as a teenager, so I know exactly how these things unfold. Taking to TV is like first love: The initial days are super heady, flushed with excesses and silliness and overlooking the other’s obvious faults. You think it will last forever. However, it is only a matter of time before the ennui sets in and nothing feels fresh anymore.
Can offline relationships with the family really contend with the carousel-on-demand of streaming apps?
I knew things had touched addiction-level rock bottom when he told me Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety wasn’t such a bad film. In fact, when my in-laws came to meet my parents one evening, I realised both the senior men were only physically present. My father-in-law eventually started playing Candy Crush on his basic Samsung phone while my father itched to go back to the rest of his “Amazon Obhijaan” even as the two women laboured over the formalities of having to make conversation with each other.
I remember a time when we were immune to Ma’s scolding or what was happening around us. It was called teenage and ours included the Harry Potter books and the newly discovered phenomenon known as “boys”. Today, I see Baba in my place. He is just as preoccupied and detached to the fam jam as we were then. Retirement could have been something entirely else had he become a senior a decade ago.
But as I see it, the only definition to that word today is “Netflix and chill”. And Baba is nailing it, one sad film at a time.