Scroll, scroll, scroll your mouse, gently down the screen.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a scene.
Ever since the first lockdown, cinemas have remained mostly shut. Movies did return to our lives with a bang – but with a deep “ta-dum!” and that dramatic red N on the monitor.
Enter Netflix: our quarantine companion, late-night friend and biggest supporter of procrastination, with its ‘next episode’ auto-plays and daily notifications of the movie or new season.
After getting disenchanted by regular cable tv and learning about how entertainment has moved to OTT (over-the-top) media platforms that thrive on a strong Internet connection, we started asking our friends and relatives living abroad to share their Netflix account with us, so that we could enjoy entertainment that our rupee couldn’t afford. They willingly or unwillingly obliged.
But now, with the new $500 allowance per credit card per year from a Nepali bank, you can independently purchase your own memberships to multiple streaming platforms, offering endless entertainment at your fingertips, with remote controls that now come with bright red built-in ‘Netflix’ buttons. This button is proof that tv viewing has changed forever.
Back in 1997, Netflix started as a simple DVD-by-mail rental service. In 2007, it launched a movie streaming service, which led to a cultural explosion that turned it into the biggest international streaming giant, with more than 207 million members who pay decent money for unlimited access to quality movies and tv series every month.
Users pay from $8.99 (single screen streaming) to $15.99 (up to 4 screens per account at a time) per month for curated feeds that are designed to intuitively offer content that are suited to your personal taste, based on your viewing history.
Netflix used to be exclusively for watching movies, but lately it strategically shifted its focus to tv and web series, investing billions of dollars in original content, including record-breaking shows like Money Heist, Ozark and Peaky Blinders.
Netflix also bought 83 hours of Friends, episodes of which people across ages enjoy watching on repeat, along with other popular programs that people used to follow on traditional box tv sets.
There are also award-winning documentaries like My Octopus Teacher and one-hour comedy specials like Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Additionally, Netflix offers offline viewing, a feature that is precious to those who want to plan their binge-watching when travelling or entering areas without WiFi.
Besides Netflix, there are a few others worth spending on, but in Nepal we may require a VPN to view some of these. Amazon is at a similar price point, and trying to beat Netflix’s movie collection with its own. Amazon charges $8.99 per month for a Prime Video membership without any additional Amazon shopping perks.
For premium movies, Prime requires you to rent or buy them separately. Currently, Prime Video has roughly 24,000 movies and over 2,100 shows under its belt. Prime also offers select content in 4K Ultra HD quality, making investing in a 55-inch LED Smart TV totally worth it.
Prime Video is compatible with all browsers and devices, but the best part is, it offers a 30-day free trial (credit card required) so you can explore all you want before investing in it. From Amazon original award-winners like the latest Sound of Metal to all-round entertainers like the classic whodunnit Knives Out and everybody’s beloved E.T., Prime makes sure that once you’re in, you will not run out of movies to enjoy.
While Amazon Prime is popular in South Asia, Hulu ranks second-best in the USA. Hulu’s most basic plan costs $5.99 a month, but without ads it is double. For those with deeper pockets, there’s also Hulu Live TV, a premium service with 60 channels that offer sports, news and entertainment, along with standard content for streaming. Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Homeland and American Idol are just some of the hit TV shows that you can happily binge-watch on Hulu, which is more oriented towards TV viewers than movie fanatics. The one downside is that Hulu only allows two streams from the same account at the same time, making it difficult for an entire family to share.
The ultimate family-friendly streaming platform is probably Disney Plus, with movies only up to PG-13 ratings, further emphasising that its focus is on kids’ entertainment. If you are a Marvel movie fan, Star Wars nerd or animated movie enthusiast, this OTT platform is perfect for you. Pixar movies and theatrical productions are also in Disney’s kitty, but it is the Disney classics in its vault (including The Little Mermaid, The Jungle Book, Aladdin and the new age favourite Frozen) that make it a no-brainer for anybody with children. All this for just $7.99 a month, with full access to its library and no ads.
Another platform that is clearly aiming for family audiences is Apple TV Plus, with a very small content library of over 30 Apple Originals, a variety of content across genres. Apple TV Plus has a fairly generous family sharing plan, allowing up to six family members to use the same account. Even better, they can use their own logins, so you can quietly keep your embarrassing password to yourself.
Despite being a big brand, Apple is aggressively pricing its OTT platform at just $4.99 a month. Apple spends on quality, backing big budget productions that provide fresh, original content only, such as the Jennifer Aniston-starrer The Morning Show.
Apple hasn’t yet convinced audiences with mind-blowing content yet, but cross-product sales offers do help increase its subscriber base; within 3 months of purchasing a new iPhone, you can avail the offer of a one-year free Apple TV Plus membership.
There is one tiny inconvenience: besides Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which can be accessed from Nepal, the rest of streaming platforms listed above can only be accessed via VPN, so before subscribing to them, you might want to consider spending $5 per month on average on a high-performance VPN (Virtual Private Network).
A VPN is beneficial even for Netflix and Amazon Prime viewers because it gives access to a slightly different, wider content feed that, say, viewers in the USA get to see.
What exactly does a VPN do? It connects you to a proxy server, becoming an intermediary between your device and the Internet and successfully hiding your IP address so that you can view content that is not accessible to Nepal or the region. VPNs let you break through geoblocks and keep your real location protected, so you can get your hands on all kinds of content, apps and services across borders with unlimited bandwidth. Exciting, indeed!
The most highly recommended one that offers good value for money is ExpressVPN, the top-rated VPN of the year 2021. ExpressVPN has thousands of servers across 94 countries that ensure smooth, lightning-fast streaming and excellent data security. Moreover, 30-day money-back guarantee also makes it a risk-free decision. Other excellent VPN options for Nepali users to explore are NordVPN (best budget option), PrivateVPN (most secure connection), Surfshark (rising in popularity), CyberGhost (best for beginner users) and IPVanish (great for HD streaming).
THIS WEEK ON NETFLIX
If you want to dive deep into a movie and feel every moment: Uncut Gems, an Oscar-worthy performance by Adam Sandler that makes you sweat, stress and worry as much as the rich, shady characters of the diamond district of New York, shown in the movie.
If you want an animated movie that takes you on a fun family adventure: The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a Sony Pictures production that gives solid competition to Disney and Pixar with its lovable wannabe filmmaker teenager Katie. Shoutout to her technologically challenged dad, who is, let’s face it, all our dads.
If you love a bittersweet dramedy that tells the story of a dysfunctional family through realistic, intelligent writing and relatable adult characters: The Meyerowitz Stories, directed by Noah Baumbach of Marriage Story fame. Watch Dustin Hoffman play the father’s role with panache.
If you want to get inspired by excellent salesmanship (with questionable ethnics) and enjoy the story of how Ray Kroc made McDonald’s the biggest, most successful burger chain in America: The Founder, starring Michael Keaton as a conniving business fox, based on a true story.
If you like the idea of a French movie that is funny and far from sophisticated or depressing: I Am Not an Easy Man, an out-and-out comedy led by a shameless chauvinist who has a tough time navigating his life when he wakes up to a world where women and men have reversed gender roles and the changed power dynamics make for an entertaining watch.
If you miss watching a thrilling Bollywood movie at the movie theatres: Ludo, featuring a brilliant cast (Abhishek Bachchan, Aditya Roy Kapur, Rajkumar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, etc.) that intertwines four totally different stories bound by fate, chance and crime.