Pathaan, Brahmastra, Farzi: Universe-isation of Indian Cinema & OTT Here To Stay

What's driving the growing trend of universe-isation in India, à la the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the MCU?

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Pathaan, Brahmastra, Farzi: Universe-isation of Indian Cinema & OTT Here To Stay
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In ‘Dhanrakshak’, the fourth episode of Farzi, anti-counterfeiting investigator Michael Vedanayagam (played by Vijay Sethupati) walks past a building named TFM House, next to a closed National Insurance office. He asks two men smoking in front of the building for a lighter. After thanking them for the favour, Michael casually drops the question, “Tiwari hai?”

I was watching the web series at home, and I hooted the moment Michael inquired about Tiwari.

Because there was only one Tiwari that Michael could be referring to - Srikant Tiwari - and it meant that Farzi is part of the same universe as The Family Man starring Manoj Bajpayee.

The Raj and DK Universe? The Family Man-Farzi Universe? What would this new universe be called?


In episode 5, as I continued watching Michael and co. in hot pursuit of Sunny, Firoz and their counterfeit ‘supernotes’, there was the biggest ‘aha’ moment of the entire series. When Michael gets on a call and the unmistakable voice of Manoj Bajpayee rings through, I cheered as if I was watching it on the big screen inside a packed hall.

Almost immediately after, I asked myself why I had that extremely enthusiastic response to seeing, or rather hearing Srikant Tiwari again.

My contemplations, and subsequent research on the matter, have now shaped up into this article that you are reading - on the growing trend of universe-isation in Indian entertainment, à la the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the MCU.

Brahmastra and the Astraverse. Tiger, Pathaan, War, and the YRF spy universe. Singham, Simmba, Sooryavanshi and the Rohit Shetty Cop Universe. It seems as if there’s a new universe waiting to be unveiled at every next turn. So, what’s driving this large-scale universe-isation?

Ranveer Singh, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn in a still from Sooryavanshi.

(Photo courtesy: Rohit Shetty Productionz)

Here are some key pros and perks of universe-isation, albeit with certain caveats attached.


‘It’s All Connected!’

Last Friday, I was contemplating going to the theatres to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Upon seeing so many reviews unanimously slamming the film, I discussed with my friend and colleague Prajjwal whether I should watch it or skip it.

Prajjwal replied, “Look, I know the reviews are terrible, but I am definitely going to watch it, no matter how bad it is. It’s part of the MCU, after all. I even went and saw Eternals twice.” After a short pause, he added, “And I hated that film.”

“Why did you watch it then?” I asked, even though I suspected I already knew what his answer was going to be.

“Because it’s all connected. Everything in the MCU is.”

Exactly! It’s why I persisted through most episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law despite being quite underwhelmed with the show.

Films and OTT shows which aren’t received as warmly by audiences also end up getting a significant amount of viewership due to fans of that universe not wanting to miss out on a storyline in that particular film/show which might be significant to the larger universe and other films/shows that are to follow.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the contemporary gold standard of universe-isation.

Marvel has already announced projects for Phase 6 of the MCU, with each announcement and new superhero brought into the franchise with great fanfare. The fandom has reached unprecedented heights, spawning a whole world of content being created online about the MCU by YouTubers, content creators, social media influencers and the like.

Admittedly though, despite DC’s efforts to tread a similar route, the DC Extended Universe or the DCEU hasn’t met with as much success as the MCU has. But DC too has clearly seen the benefits of universe-isation in the continued box office and streaming success that their rivals Marvel are enjoying, and are doing everything they can to follow suit.

But can our homegrown Indian entertainment universes such as Ayan Mukerji’s Astraverse hit the jackpot using the universe-isation formula?

Spinoff, Spinoff Everywhere: The Astras of Continued Success?

Ayan Mukerji's Brahmastra

(Image courtesy: IMDb)

The possibilities are indeed endless. Just look at the possible follow-ups to Brahmastra, for example. Brahmastra Part One: Shiva was already intended as part of a trilogy. The movie’s resounding success at the box office, with collections of over Rs 400 crore, mean that the Astraverse is here to stay, at least for now.

There’s Brahmastra Part 2: Dev, which is expected to be the next offering in the franchise. But if you’ve seen Brahmastra, you will likely agree that so many characters in the film seemed like they could potentially have their own spinoffs, in addition to more ensemble offerings in the future.

Could the role of Mohan Bhargav, the possessor of the Vanarastra, played by Shah Rukh Khan, get its own movie or OTT series? An origin story perhaps?

In an interview with The Indian Express, Brahmastra director Ayan Mukerji said, “Before the fans were saying it, we were also saying that ourselves. When we were shooting the sequence in 2019, we were also saying (it) on sets. As we discovered the personality of the scientist, we said, ‘Yaar, we have to do stuff. We have to do the origin story of the scientist!”

Then there’s Anish Shetty, the possessor of the Nandi Astra, played by southern superstar Nagarjuna.

Nagarjuna as Anish Shetty in Brahmastra

Following the largely enthusiastic response that Brahmastra received (barring the dialogues, of course), Nagarjuna had stated that director Ayan Mukerji and he were in talks about what’s next for his character in the Brahmastra franchise. “We are paying attention to all the fan theories. We are enjoying it. It is such a powerful character. I love Nandi Astra.” He added, “Let’s see. I told Ayan, “Make one huge success and we’ll talk about these things.””

It’s all on the cards, and why not?

After all, in universe offerings, the hype carries on, and the buzz is accumulated upon, instead of being recreated from scratch every time. Which brings us to the next big perk of universe-isation.

A Ready Supply of Hype For Every New Release

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania raked in around $225 million globally in its opening weekend. It was the 31st film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The reason it’s done so well isn’t because the movie’s promotions did something drastically amazing. Nor has it done well because audiences have come out after watching the film and showered it with raving praise.

The very fact that it is the MCU’s latest big screen offering and the first film of MCU’s Phase 5 is a strong enough reason for legions of Marvel fans to swarm theatres in anticipation of what’s next in the universe.

The hype is already there. The individual product’s promotionals don’t need to reinvent the wheel and start from zero. The web of publicity begins much earlier than the conventional few weeks before a film actually hits theatres.

This isn’t to say that everything from a popular universe will work or necessarily be popular.

Take a look at the box office figures of The Eternals, for example. The movie, which was received poorly by critics and audiences alike, is reported to have been one of the MCU’s worst performers at the box office. However, despite that, the film grossed a worldwide total of over 400 million USD, more than double its budget of 200 million USD.


Capitalising on the universe hype and building up on existing successes is increasingly the flavour of the season.

Queen Charlotte from the Bridgerton spinoff, and Berlin from Money Heist

(Photo: The Quint)

Now, even a Bridgerton universe is in the works, with Netflix’s announcement of a spinoff in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. As is Money Heist: Berlin, a spinoff of the smash hit Spanish web series that will delve into the life of one of its most interesting characters. And closer home, the success of TVF’s Aspirants has birthed SK Sir Ki Class, with Abhilash Thapliyal reprising the role of SK Sir.

More Universe ‘Aspirants’ On The Block

The first episode of the SK Sir spinoff has racked up more than 3.4 million views on YouTube in less than two days, and at the time of writing this article was continuing to trend at #1 on the video streaming platform.

Speaking to The Quint, Thapliyal sounds cautiously optimistic about the prospects that a growing trend of universe-isation could bring along. He remarks, “A spinoff series only happens when your character is loved enough - take Better Call Saul for example - when people fall in love with your character, that’s when producers take a call, in terms of business also, it’s a good proposition. It’s commercially viable.”

While acknowledging the benefits of universe-isation, he warns, “You’re not introducing the character all over again - but there’s a (potential) loss associated with that as well. When it’s a show about a popular character, you have to do it well - otherwise, the audience will get prejudiced against the universe itself. You have to focus on the storytelling in the spinoff just as much, 200%.”

Is the Aspirants the newest universe on the Indian entertainment block then? Thapliyal says, “Since the response is good, ho sakta hai ki TVF kuch kare. It could be that TVF takes this further. India hasn’t had so many universes in an advanced stage yet - so it’s still uncharted territory.”

Thapliyal makes a fair point about it being relatively uncharted territory in India - even the YRF spy universe was only properly unveiled during Pathaan, and the Astraverse is still just a movie old.

But one thing’s for certain - the Indian entertainment industry is brimming with universe-isation prospects and aspirations, in the hopes of replicating super-franchise successes like the MCU. From Salman, Shah Rukh and Hrithik as YRF spies, to Ranbir, Alia, Amitabh, Deepika, Nagarjuna and more in the Astraverse, India’s entertainment universes have a galaxy of stars backing them already. Ready to make it bigger.

If their initial successes are anything to go by, whether it’s OTT or theatrical releases, films or TV shows, universe-isation in Indian entertainment is one trend that seems here to stay.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Pathaan   The Family Man   Farzi 

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