Paatal Lok has turned into a massive success with both critics and the audience. While the reviews have been almost unanimously positive, the feedback from the general viewers has seen widespread appreciation. In fact, more than a few have gone as far as to hail the web series as the best ever produced in the Indian digital space. No doubt the makers are over the moon, and to get their thoughts on the stupendous success of their show among other things, we got in touch with its producers, Anushka Sharma and her brother Karnesh, whose Clean Slate Films have bankrolled the project — their maiden OTT venture.
Congratulations on the super response to Paatal Lok. Were you sure from the beginning that this will become an overnight sensation? After watching the final edit, did you feel you had something special on hand?
Anushka Sharma: Definitely did feel that we had something special, I felt like we had made a good show, I knew that. I was very proud of it, I was very proud of the people behind it, people who worked on it. Everyone’s effort that went into it. You obviously don’t know the extent to which it is going to be appreciated. I knew it will be a well appreciated show but this is obviously unprecedented, this has been extremely overwhelming and you never think or work towards these accolades, you work towards being true to the story and that’s what we did. As a producer you want to just make sure you are just enabling the team in every way you can in your position to help them to tell the story in the way that they want to. Karnesh and I did that as producers and we are very happy that everybody’s work is being appreciated like it is.
Karnesh Sharma: Thank you for your kind words. I think, you never write anything or make anything to become a sensation — that's what we believe in. I think, after watching the edit, what we felt is that we did justice to the story which Sudip and the rest of the writers had created, and it was apt for the writing. So we were happy that we were able to achieve something set our mind to.
What is it that draws you to dark, edgy subjects as a producer, subjects that show the horrendous side of humans be it NH10, Pari, or now, Paatal Lok?
Anushka Sharma: I'm definitely not drawn to dark subjects I am rather drawn to stories and what happens around you in the world, our endeavour is to be able to present that through a story. For me, the most exciting and most amazing part as a producer and as a creative person is to do films and series like Paatal Lok which is different, clutter-breaking and progressive. I think Phillauri is testament to that because it was a happy film but the idea was so different, there was a friendly ghost in the film. So we've always gone behind bold, interesting, different ideas. We have not really bothered about the treatment as such, we've just made sure that the treatment of the idea is as true to the idea as much as possible. So sometimes it will be dark and edgy like NH10 and other times it'll be like Phillauri.
Did the thought of ever casting yourself in Paatal Lok cross your mind? Even for, say, a cameo.
Anushka Sharma: No, not at all because then that would be us being not true to the story and true to the show. It did not cross my mind at all. But I would joke with Sudip as in the show we've shown photographs of people who actually worked on the show like Navdeep Singh and Prosit’s photo has been used as one of the people who were killed. So I was joking with Sudip that I'm surprised you didn't put my picture over there. But on a serious note, I have never thought about casting myself for the series.
Is there going to be a Paatal Lok 2? If yes, who all among the cast will be returning given the way the story ended?
Anushka Sharma: You know, we're actually quite ready with another idea for it. And if Amazon gets in touch and if they are willing to do another season we are ready and totally game for it.
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Karnesh Sharma: Right now, we can't comment on this. I think, Amazon is the best to answer this question. And if there is a willingness, definitely we would we be thinking along those lines.
Do you think that something like a Paatal Lok would be difficult to adapt for the big screen? Does OTT give you more freedom in terms of creativity and time for such content?
Anushka Shama: No absolutely, we are touching upon so many things in Paatal Lok, there are so many subplots and there are so many stories that are happening at the same time. Series as such is a medium in which you are allowed seven to ten hours if not more to tell a story. You obviously cannot do that in a feature film and you try and keep it within two hours. So it's not possible - it's a totally different way of writing and a different way of direction as well. I don’t think we can do justice to a story like Paatal Lok in a movie format.
Many have hailed Paatal Lok as the best Indian web series ever. Do you agree? Also, which other Indian web shows have you seen and feel are up there with your show?
Anushka Shama: Honestly, when you're making a show you are telling a story at that time, you are not thinking about it becoming the best. You are just trying to stay true to the story and you are doing anything in your capacity to be able to back that 100% and do it honestly. So, no we never looked at it that way we are very happy with the appreciation we got and for people calling it the best web series India has ever produced. I think the happiest moments for me is when I have got calls from so many people with whom I have worked with and from filmmakers and others who said that they've been inspired by the show. They felt like they've been inspired to do something and I think that is something which is the best part as that's what used to happen to me when I used to watch something really amazing. I used to watch it and get inspired. Those are the discussions that Karnesh and I would have when we would watch something and we would discuss how amazing it was and how can we do something as good as that. Karnesh and I have had discussions like this for years now and today to reach that point where people are saying the same thing to us. I think it's been an amazing journey for us as producers. So yeah, this makes me feel very happy. I don't compare it to anything. I don't want to compare it to anything. I think a lot of good work has been done on this platform and also a lot of people have done good work on this platform and I'm very appreciative of it.
How much have you enjoyed the memes around Paatal Lok? Also, whenever so many memes emerge after a film or show releases, do you think memes are a new measurement (like box office), especially nowadays, of how well or poorly it has struck a chord with the audience?
Anushka Shama: I think memes tell you that something has directly sat or directly impacted somebody, memes are a testament of that. I think nowadays anything that it is good or anything that is liked by people memes are made of it and it also means that if it is a testament to the popularity of something. I find them really funny. The entire team were sharing memes with each other that were being made on the show and it was amazing.
Jaideep Ahlawat's role has been loved by one and all. Was he always the first choice for the part or did you all consider other names, too? And do you think OTT platforms allow actors traditionally not considered for leading roles in films to prove that perception wrong?
Anushka Shama: Honestly as producers Karnesh and I always believed in content is everything and content is above everything. So we always believed that you have to cast the right actor. Also for an OTT platform, you don't have the pressures of the box office. From my experience, I can say that what is most important is an actor becomes the character that he or she is given. Jaideep Ahlawat is a phenomenal actor he is an institution in himself when it comes to acting and people are noticing it. He has done a lot of work before as well but Paatal Lok has definitely been something apt for a deserving actor like him and I am very happy for the appreciation he is getting for the show that we have produced. Sudip was very sure from the beginning when we discussed as to who does he feel and he was very sure from the beginning that Jaideep was the right fit for it.
If there's going to be another season, would you say that Hathi Ram Chaudhary has the potential to become one of the great fictional detectives on screen, like say, Sherlock, Luther, Veronica Mars, Remington Steele, Frost, or our own Byomkesh Bakshi?
Anushka Shama: Yeah, I think so. I hope so. I definitely think that Hathiram can become a cult figure if he hasn't already. The show is being touted as a cult show and Hathiram too, so I only see this going upward.