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World Wide Entertainment

Mohini Chaudhuri | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 27, 2015

Bespoke TV Yash Raj Films is the first big banner to dip its feet into the Web series business. In September, it launched Man’s World

Home run Every week, Anand Tiwari’s Web series Bang Baaja Baaraat grabs over a million eyeballs

Boldly ahead The Viral Fever’s show Pitchers has helped its actors gain recognition

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Major production houses and indie artistes are now making series especially for the Web, as it allows filmmakers with minimal resources to reach millions of viewers

For years, popular theatre and film actor Anand Tiwari was waiting to make his breakthrough as a filmmaker. When he was assisting on the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Barfi!, director Anurag Basu advised him to test-run his skills instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity. Tiwari took his words seriously. With his limited resources, he made a couple of short films and uploaded them on YouTube as an experiment. Each one clocked millions of views — a certificate of success on the World Wide Web.

“It was amazing to get that reaction without too much investment. For my film Haircut, my friend, actor Kunal Khemu very kindly convinced his hairstylist to let us shoot at his salon. All we had to do was invest in talent and get friends to act for free,” says Tiwari. Work started pouring in following this success, and eventually he landed his big break with Y Films — Yash Raj Film’s youth wing.

His ambition of making a feature film is yet to materialise, but every week Tiwari’s web series Bang Baaja Baaraat for Y Films is grabbing over a million eyeballs. “Web is more accessible and there are greater chances of scripts translating into actual work. In two months, writer Sumeet Vyas and I had a script and we quickly shot it. That kind of quick turnaround of content is possible because the investments are less on the Web,” explains Tiwari.

Repeatedly, the Web has proved its worth as a powerful platform to showcase fresh and original content. We’ve seen several comedy collectives benefit from it, and now mammoth production houses like Yash Raj Films, Eros and Balaji are also exploring it as an avenue. Channels like Star Plus and Sony have already launched their live streaming apps, Hotstar and SonyLiv, respectively.

Yash Raj Films is the first big banner to dip its feet into the business. In September, it launched its first Web series, Man’s World, and is now halfway through Tiwari’s Bang Baaja Baaraat. Given the phenomenal feedback both shows have received, from viewers not only in India but also overseas, Ashish Patil, creative and business head of YRF, says he’s ready to further explore the depths of this medium. “Content is like a black hole on the internet. There are 100 minutes of content going up on YouTube every minute. We want to try and do stuff which is closer to our core, which is telling stories. A 10-part story like a House of Cards, or a mini hour-long movie, or a Web series, or even a short film forms our core. Basically, we are doing stuff that wouldn’t have worked on other screens,” says Patil.

In the field of Web content creation, The Viral Fever (TVF) has now attained veteran status in India. From comedy sketches to branded content, they have dabbled in most aspects of creativity for the Web. Founder Arunabh Kumar says that for TVF, making India’s first-ever fictional Web series was a natural progression. It was also a personal goal he had set for himself after his concepts were rejected by youth television channels. Their first Web show, Permanent Roommates, which premiered last year, became the second most-watched long-form series on YouTube, and is about to hit 10 million views. The story revolves around a young couple who decide to get married after a three-year long-distance relationship. In the process of hunting for a house for themselves, they rediscover their relationship.

TVF’s second show, TVF Pitchers, which superseded the success of Permanent Roommates, hit home with youngsters in the start-up world.

More than saas-bahu

According to Biswapati Sarkar, the writer of both these shows, their thumping success proves that the youth are hungry for good content, which the regressive family dramas on Indian TV fail to provide. “We wanted to make the shows which we grew up watching, like The Big Bang Theory or a Seinfeld. The idea was to try and reflect the times and places we live in — an absolutely realistic and urban space. The way Bollywood or TV shows depict the youth is that they drink, have fun, and drive around the Gateway of India at night in an open jeep. I don’t know people who do that. I don’t have friends like that,” says Sarkar.

Patil, too, has set his sights on filling the demand in India for quality youth-based content. “If I’m grabbing eyeballs, it would probably be anything that is occupying the youth’s mind-space — so probably something that’s a big hit on Comedy Central or Key and Peele. We’re looking at the crowd that goes to Sunburn, or the kid attending the IIT Kharagpur fest — the young demographic that is seeking entertainment,” he says.

Open for experiments

Writing and directing for the Web is far more liberating as well. Since it is still a relatively new concept, no one really knows what works and what doesn’t. Till that happens, people are open to testing different material. Most importantly, these shows aren’t bogged down by the commercial pressure that films and television have to deal with.

“TV is only watched in villages and Tier III towns and the mathematics of TV shows is driven by them. So I think television will never be able to cater to these kinds of (Web) shows because businesswise the only thing that makes sense to them is a Diya aur Baati Hum or Sasural Simar Ka,” says Kumar.

It also greatly helps that the Web has little or no censorship. In YRF’s Bang Baaja Baaraat, Tinder hook-ups, a bachelorette pool party, references to sex toys, and use of expletives are kosher.

Probably the most significant upshot of the Web explosion is the opportunities it has provided to upcoming talent to directly connect with viewers.

“This gives me elbow-room to test fresh talent both on screen and behind the scenes. Across the two series, we’ve worked with many new writers and directors, musicians and costume designers. These are people whom, at some stage, I will suck into the mother-ship and ask to make films for me,” says Patil.

Actor Naveen Kasturia — who debuted with the indie film Sulemani Keeda — says his role in TVF’s Pitchers has garnered him unprecedented popularity. “Everybody wants to make films but that is not in our hands. But the Web will open many more avenues for more actors and writers. Pitchers has brought a lot of change in my life. People know me now. Wherever I go, I get recognised,” he says.

These merits aside, no one has yet been able to crack a successful revenue model for the Web as yet.

Both YRF and TVF shows have used brand sponsorships and tie-ups for support. Patil says India is still a long way f from paying subscription for content. That said, if reports are to be believed, the stakes on the Web are about to get higher.

Eros Now has already announced plans for a service that will stream original shows, including an action-thriller starring Bipasha Basu, as also a tie-up with Anil Kapoor’s production company.

Kumar seems welcoming of the new players, but also a tad sceptical. “So many production houses coming in will give a push to the entire ecosystem, which is good. This will definitely increase online viewership. Also, people with deeper pockets are going to market it. This shows there is growth in the ecosystem. But will there be an impact? That’s what remains to be seen. The brutal truth about the digital medium is that it doesn’t really work on muscle and money,” he says.

Sarkar echoes this sentiment. He says “digital natives” like TVF and All India Bakchod have, by virtue of spending more time on the Web, a deeper understanding of the medium. Therefore, their work “has a lot more heart.”

“When big names start coming in, brands will also start coming in. However, I feel the number of honest attempts is still very limited. They are looking at it as an opportunity to make some money. We are all outsiders. We wanted to make films and TV shows and we didn’t have the contacts to make it possible. Somehow the digital revolution happened and our content took off. A lot of people are now trying to discover it and reverse-engineer it,” says Sarkar.

For now, viewers can rest assured that unlimited entertainment is just a click away.

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Published on November 27, 2015
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