VOICES PUSHPESH PANT S VAIDHYASUBRAMANIAM RAVI SHANKAR RAJAT CHAUDHURI ANUJA CHANDRAMOULI SADHGURU JAGGI VASUDEV THE NEW SUNDAY EXPRESS BUFFET MAGAZINE PEOPLE WELLNESS BOOKS FOOD ART & CULTURE ENTERTAINMENT JUNE 14 2020 SUNDAY PAGES 12 The taut thriller Paatal Lok on Amazon Prime is the new darling of the masses stream Hindi cinema. Panchayat, on the other hand, is a sweet, simple, wholly non-violent series set in a village in the deep interiors of North India that, I suspect, hasn’t happened in Bollywood since Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades (2004), and Lagaan (2001), which was also a sports, and a period film. What about basic constructs/ features of the lead actor or hero/heroine, as it were, in cinema, vis-a-vis series on streaming apps, that have an equally large distribution network, dropping in about 200 countries simultaneously? Is the star here a different commodity? “Right now I think it is about matching the lead actor, to the lead character, as it should be,” Jitendra says, reiterating he doesn’t know how long this will last. “Bollywood had a Little Things on Netflix is about a similar phase between cohabiting couple in their 20s 2008 and 2012, when actors Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey would be heroes of a certain kind of cinema. And then that trend disappeared. With web, we got a sense, especially around 2015-16, that a certain elbow room for experimentation was getting created. And that it will stay this way, for at least 10 years or so. Let’s see,” he says. A poster of Disney+Hotstar’s Kay Kay Menon-starrer Special Ops Small is the New Big Turn to page 2 OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar are taking outlier themes to create new stars, tell bold stories and bind India and the world Amazon Prime’s Four More Shots Please! is India’s answer to Sex And The City Netflix’s Sacred Games completely changed the way OTT platforms functioned By MAYANK SHEKHAR N obody ever gets mobbed after a walk-on part in a Bollywood film,” says actor Abhishek Banerjee, recalling how, in 2015, a minor appearance as the character Bhati in a show called Pitchers, on the comedy-collective The Viral Fever’s (TVF) YouTube channel, had turned him into quite the magnet at bars. Banerjee would know a thing or two about walk-on parts in Bollywood. Soon as he stormed into the scene mid-May this year, as the antagonist Hathoda Tyagi in the deliriously dark Amazon Prime Video series Paatal Lok, screenshots of a much younger Banerjee from the ‘audition sequence’ in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti (2006) went viral on Twitter. This of course gave one a sense of how long the actor had been around, until he attained Hathoda as a household name. But the point Banerjee was trying to make with the Pitchers instance was how he had realised then, first-hand, for the first time, the sort of fame that accrued to an actor—showing up only in the first episode (‘Tu beer hai’), of the first season, of a popular YouTube/web show. He’d been surrounded by fans, “whether among engineering students in Tamil Nadu (who didn’t even speak Hindi that well), or film-festival audiences in Stuttgart, Germany Banerjee has also .” been a Bollywood casting agent for over a decade. His résumé includes hardcore mainstream titles such as the Vidya Balan-starrer The Dirty Picture (2011), Akshay Kumar masalaentertainer Gabbar Is Back (2015), the massive Karan Johar period production Kalank (2019), or the most recent—Irrfan Khan’s last film Angrezi Medium (2020). Sensing potential from Pitchers, Banerjee was the first established casting director in Mumbai to set up shop for web—issuing casting calls for TVF’s YouTube sketches/ shows: “It was like a barter deal. I’d pick up talents from one industry, and introduce them to the other. None of the film directors would take actors from web seriously though. Since I was involved in both, I knew what they were unable to see. That a time (for web actors becoming the new stars) would come. That time is here.” Banerjee’s internet roster has organically segued into mammoth productions such as Inside Edge, Mirzapur, Gullak, with the advent of global streaming apps Prime Video and Netflix into the Indian market. Although a web series is essentially a non-perishable TV serial, with no added burden of appointment viewing—in terms of budget, scale, look and feel—web platforms with deep pockets have brought it closer to cinema, as it were. Which is a massive jump, yes. Did the YouTube actors/entertainers make the same leap? It’s happening among a fair array already Take actor . Sumeet Vyas, who’s naturally graduated from YouTube to main roles on shows such as The Verdict: State vs Nanavati, and Rejctx (on Zee5), while dabbling in lower billing in Bollywood alongside (Veere Di Wedding, Made In China). Likewise, leads Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal, who ruled the underground scene with their sweet, realistic romance Little Things on YouTube have a permanent home for multiple seasons on Netflix. Consider Jitendra Kumar. The first time I saw him on screen was when I’d done a cameo on a collegiate TVF spoof called Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party (2014)—by length, at 16 minutes, the most popular Indian YouTube video that year. It’s at 8.5 million views currently Kumar played ‘Arjun . Kejriwal’ (mimicking the current Delhi Chief Minister) in the skit so convincingly, he recalls, “a great win for an actor, that for three to four years, all the casting calls were to play ‘Kejriwal’ and other atrangi (odd) parts!” So much so that when he went into a full-fledged mini-series with TVF Pitchers, he asked for his character to be named after himself, Jitendra (Maheshwari). His breakout role undoubtedly is as the warm, friendly IIT-tutorial/life coach, Jeetu bhaiya, in the college cult hit, Kota Factory. Kumar had his first brush with amateur theatre while still a student at IIT Kharagpur. He’d been around in Mumbai doing shows such as TVF Bachelors, Tripling, Humorously Yours and the like for half a decade. The year 2020 appears to have been the best year thus far for him. And, perhaps, for him alone on this planet! Late February, Jitendra made his Bollywood debut as the bona fide lead opposite To be fair, some of that alternate/eclectic eco-system within popular cinema—outside of the Khans/Kapoors/ Kumar with a captive audience, so to say—had already been created over the past couple of decades. Which explains the first line-up of lead actors on India’s flagship long-format shows on the web—Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Sacred Games) on Netflix, Manoj Bajpayee (Family Man) and Pankaj Tripathi (Mirzapur) on Prime Video, Kay Kay Menon (Special Ops) on Disney-Hotstar. But there’s a key difference between a theatrically released film, and a series that drops on a platform. Banerjee points out: “Firstly your expectation, as an , audience, is lower with a series. Because you haven’t physically travelled, devoted specified time, and paid money for tickets plus popcorn for it. That’s why you’ll notice when people don’t like a show, there’s not even a whimper online. Nobody cares. They just move on. (If you have the app already), you’ll just try out any new show, for at least an episode, to see if you could be interested in it at all. Now how does it matter then, who’s in it? Look at Jamtara on Netflix. Nobody knew its writer, director, or actors from before. If I hadn’t told you otherwise, you could not think the show was actually made in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar with local talents.” Examine slightly below the surface, and here’s the point Banerjee is really trying to make. A star in popular cinema is defined by box office numbers; distilled even further down to the opening/weekend collections on release. This sets the bar. No such parameter, at least externally, exists on a streaming platform. The apps strictly don’t reveal viewership numbers either. The power of a star is thereafter determined by projects he or she (but, mostly he) can greenlight, given a captive audience, in a deeply commercial industry . Streaming on Zee5, RejctX revolves around a group of students Ayushmann Khurrana in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS). Early April, he headlined the top-notch, instantly-loved Prime Video series Panchayat, with veterans Raghubir Yadav and Neena Gupta in supporting roles. Both successes reveal as much about changing times as it does about Kumar’s professional growth. SMZS is a gay-romance, a theme that would’ve ideally been left untouched in main- Digital streaming companies spent around $21 billion in 2017, which is expected to more than double by 2022, according to ‘Asia on Demand’ Content spending by Asian operators . is expected to reach $10.1 billion by 2022 from $2.7 billion in 2017.
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