Karan Johar, Imtiaz Ali, Zoya Akhtar: For Bollywood filmmakers, web is the new silver screen
The digital space is booming, and how! With fresh and fearless content as its USP, the web has attracted not just TV and film actors, but there’s also an influx of mainstream filmmakers who are making series/films exclusively for online steaming platforms.
The recently released series, Sacred Games, has been directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane; the anthology film Lust Stories, too, had directors such as Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar and Dibakar Banerjee. The Test Case web series was directed by Nagesh Kukunoor and backed by Ekta Kapoor’s production house. Hansal Mehra co-produced web show Bose: Dead or Alive. Going forward, Kabir Khan is making a series on Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, tentatively titled The Forgotten Army, Sujoy Ghosh is working on a web series called Suspect X, Imtiaz Ali on a crime thriller, and Shirish Kunder is also working on a web project.
Describing the rise of digital platforms in the worldwide marker, London-based Natasha Mudhar, head of Sterling Media, who has marketed India cinema to the global audiences, says, “There is, most definitely, a shift in the way people are watching movies and TV shows, specially supplemented by improvements in streaming infrastructure. The increasing popularity of digital media has provided for a paradigm shift in the global advertising spends and filmmakers are following the changing trend and increasingly allocating their budget to digital mediums.”
Film fraternity feels that web is the future and hence, it’s the obvious next step after films when it comes to creating exclusive content. Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, who has helmed a few web series and also starred in his daughter’s debut web series, Untouchables, says, “Entertainment should be where the throng is and today people are thronging on their phones. The first screen of choice has moved from cinema to television, and now on to the phone screens. The web has made it easy to reach a global audience at the click of the button without any middleman. From the maker to the consumer, there’s a straight line and a direct connect.”
Nagesh Kukunoor admits to have been a big fan of the web space for a long time. “These web platforms have changed the game in terms of the amount of content and some of the best writing that’s happening now is in this format,” says the filmmaker, who has just finished shooting for a 10-part series called City of Dreams.
Another plus point in favour of web series is that the narrative goes beyond feature films in terms of censorship, content and language. “While writing a feature, I’m restricted to 100 or 120 minutes but on web, I can let my imagination go wild. Just like a novel, here I can do genuine character explorations, create them in depth and giving them ample screen time,” adds Kukunoor.
Filmmaker Pooja Bhatt, who has developed a murder thriller called City of Death, loves how the web allows one to tell stories differently, and “pick themes that commercial cinema won’t allow” you to make. “I hope that filmmakers venturing into web don’t become frightened as regular distributors and creators, and they keep this space original.”
Worldwide reach and no risk
Their content reaching audiences far and wide is every filmmaker’s dream. The digital medium facilitates that. “Add subtitles in another language, and it’s like a worldwide release,” says producer Rahul Mittra, adding, “You suddenly expand your audience base even in unconventional markets that as a filmmaker you wouldn’t be able to tap into.”
Mittra elaborates that there’s no risk proposition involved. “A film is primarily dependent on the box office, as theatrical release is a very big component of the revenue. But in web, there’s no loss because the cost is being underwritten by the channel and the OTT platform and the fee component is also there. Also, if your next season of a series is approved, you start getting consistent money, thus making it a viable proposition,” he says.
Kuknoor, too, finds it “fascinating that as a filmmaker, you have no freaking clue about how the shows are doing and it’s a massive guessing game going on here.”
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