There seems to be a surge of non-Indians reviewing Indian movie trailers – a concept that several Indian YouTubers are lapping up with glee. Is this reverse-fascination feeding our attempts at first world acceptance?Jaby Koay is one such YouTube user. Based out of California in the United States of America, Koay is a filmmaker who reacts to American movies and trailers and shoots some of his own work. But it is his reviews of Indian movie trailers that earn him YouTube views in the thousands and a dedicated list of subscribers. Supported by two Indian women, Moumita and Akeira, who mostly function from behind the scenes to aid “comprehension,” Koay invites several other American guests to pair up with him on camera for twice the amount of awkwardness that can be faced should the reaction goes awry.
While Moumita and Akeira do feed Koay the latest titles, his increased popularity has resulted in movie recommendation requests from his Indian fans. Apart from reviewing the trailers of Fan or Udta Punjab, Koay can also be seen digging into the past with the trailers of such films as Rang De Basanti, Agneepath and Commando. The result? Kay’s YouTube channel is full of enthusiastic Indians who throng the comments section, correcting Koay’s mistakes (should there be any), affirming the quality of the film whose trailer he just reviewed, and fighting over superstars.
It helps that Koay is incredibly affable and mindfully respectful and responds almost enthusiastically to every trailer, from the very bizarre ones to the genuinely good films. But what purpose do these videos serve and who are they intended for? Koay and his guest attempt to explain whatever it is that takes place in the trailer and the story they may have deduced from it – an endeavour that horribly misfires when the trailers have no subtitles. If the endeavour is aimed at American audiences keen on exploring Indian cinema, it’s potentially useless. However, if it is an attempt at self-deprecating humour — the “Look at us failing at your culture” — who is cracking up?
Koay is one of the better ones on YouTube. Several other popular channels such as The Reel Rejects, Toma Puck, TravelTura, and Grissle’s World, regularly update their feed to showcase their eager impressions of the latest Indian (particularly Hindi) cinema offerings. Most of these videos offer insipid commentaries with the only novelty being reverse sycophancy. For a change, it is foreigners fawning over what we have to offer. They seem genuinely delighted by the song-and-dance routines and enthralled by the over-the-top fight sequences. And should non-commercial fare come across their way, they are surprised and ready to applaud.
The point that causes most wonderment is the number of Indian users visiting these channels. The reactions from many users seem banal at best and derisory at worst. For a country that year after year produces impassioned reactions to the Academy Awards rejecting our representations, does this even need explanation?
For a long time, Indian cinema’s refusal to comply with the aesthetics of world cinema made it a standalone industry that was unique in its treatment. We scoffed at the Oscars for refusing to comprehend our vibrant spirit, but the scene has changed over the past few years, with filmmakers looking to make rooted and realistic dramas. Our craving for an Academy Award is now stronger than ever. We celebrate our movies that are showcased at Cannes and pride ourselves on festival wins.
Technically, these YouTube channels are making money by reacting to videos created by other users. As Jaby Koay recently explained, Indian film companies who find their trailers on his site are eager to make some money off the exchange. This has forced Koay to split his trailer reviews into a reaction and a review so he could at least make money off the latter while getting monetised for the former.
Despite the Oscars ignoring us, we’re appreciative when American audiences enjoy what we have to offer. And as long as American YouTube channels have great things to say about our work, they will have our subscription.