OTT platforms have caught the fancy of several content creators and actors. These powerhouses of talent may not have had a smooth run in India’s box-office driven industry but headlined the best of what web has to offer in current times. Producers, storytellers, and actors believe that now is the best time to be a part of the web world, the reason why more and more of the lot are foraying into the online streaming service. Kunal Kemmu, who has mostly been identified with comic roles in Bollywood, led ZEE5 Original crime thriller Abhay. Dia Mirza, who boasts of selective work in her career of 18 years, played the female protagonist in a cross-border drama by the platform, Kaafir. Watch the trailer of Kaafir here:
Needless to mention, the web is the exciting thing on the block as of yet.
Bhavani Iyer waited 13 years for her story of a Pakistani woman wrongfully accused of terrorism and locked up in an Indian jail to be told. Although she was clear she didn’t want to make Kaafir with anyone who didn’t believe in it, she does opine that OTT is empowering storytellers like her. She explains, “I think the OTT platform has opened up so much for writers and creators. This is one platform which is about the voice of the writing and that is the absolutely right way to go about things. In cinema, sometimes, the stars and the actors drive a project, in television, it is the TRPs but in OTT the first thing that is looked at is the story, the written material. That is the foundation that brings your directors, your actors, your platform and all else. I don’t know if it is designed to be like that, but the model seems so perfect and correct. I speak for a lot of my fellow writers here, when I say that it is wonderful to be empowered like this. This empowerment is only going to bring so much better storytelling. Maybe writers now won’t have to wait for nine years or thirteen years (like I had to, for Lootera and Kaafir) to have their stories told. There is an avenue, where their stories will be told without it being populist or ticking those commercial boxes.”
Further adding, “I feel this is not a great time just because of the abilities for all of us to tell the story that we can, but it is also a great time because the audience is so much more sensitive and receptive today. There is this ability to absorb much more than what the previous audience was being fed. And that I think is why today is so precious, storytellers really need to cherish and nourish this period so that we don’t let our audience down and we live up to what they are looking out for. This acceptance is what we need to honour and revere.”
Besides liberating writers, the very fact that OTT platforms are doing away with the stigma and set of stereotypes that come with a role for a female actor is appealing. Indian cinema hasn’t seen much of Soni Razdan. But when the Sadak star recently played the role of a 57-year-old woman Mithi Kumar in Sanjoy Nag’s Yours Truly, online audience sat up and took notice of her more than a much younger Aahana Kumra who featured in a supporting character. Comparing the changing times to her era gone by, she shares, “We are in a very interesting age. I am really envious of a current lot of actors, with the films being made and roles being offered. It’s amazing, the films are well written, they are well directed, the actors today are so privileged. I, sometimes, wonder if they know how privileged they are. Because we had to struggle so much against so many odds. Things were really unreal at one point in the industry. Roles were unnaturally written for actors, we had to mouth these dialogues that sounded like speech. Things weren’t very natural. We had to fight against all these things. Slowly, the unnaturalness has melted away from the film space. Today you get to be more real, international. Cinema has come from where to where; the actors today are really privileged to be a part of this.”
Since one is no longer required to book tickets at a multiplex or a cinema hall, the viewing experience has changed the kind of content made available. “The process of watching movies is becoming more and more intimate. So we can make more intimate movies. You don’t have to watch those blockbuster movies that are run in the hall. You no longer have to catch a train or a bus or a rickshaw to go to the theatres to watch a film,” Soni adds.
Producer Siddharth P Malhotra reveals he had to go through his fair share of struggle before he met Tarun Katial, CEO of ZEE5. He hails web as the best medium, as a producer-director, “I completely agree that digital is the best medium. I have come to believe instead of the frustrations and all, every story has the right medium and time. We couldn’t have explored each and every layer if it was put in some two hours. Now that it is made into eight hours of content, we have much more to tell.” Sonam Nair, who directed Kaafir, agrees, “Web is a very exciting space because it allows you to make whatever you want to make and it’s so much fun. If you stop thinking about what happens next, you don’t know what comes out of what. I made this short film Khujli, 15-minute film, no money. We just got everyone to do it, then Jackie Shroff won an award, Neena Gupta got Badhaai Ho from it. You don’t know what happens!”
Mohit Raina made his debut in Bollywood with Uri: The Surgical Strike and then forayed into the digital medium with Kaafir. Ask about the transition from TV to films to the web he says, “I just look at it as a greedy person who is moving around in satisfaction of his creative needs, irrespective of the platform. As long as my needs get satisfied, I am more than happy with that. I am not looking forward to a particular platform to be present at, I can move around. This is the best time for anyone to be a part of the industry, irrespective of the profession. You can be a technician, you can be a writer, you can be a creative person, there is so much good happening all around. You just need to be there to grasp it and make the most of the opportunity.”
Given the boom in the number of actors turning to the web, Aahana Kumra, who appeared in ZEE5 Originals Rangbaaz and Bombers, remarks, “It’s like the next Versova.” She goes on, “I hate going to the theatre and watching anything now. I can watch anything in the comfort of my home, then why should I kill myself when I do have the luxury? It becomes easier! And look at the rise these days, there is so much content. We need to understand the world we are getting into right now. There is an enormous amount of pressure on everyone. Today what people are trying to do is make their presence felt, ki bhai I am relevant on social media. Those who are not on it are trying ways to get on it.”
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