Putting the spotlight on the place of Indian web series in the country, filmmaker-producer Ekta Kapoor, who tapped into the digital space as late as last year, had recently stated in an interview, "We are still in the absolute nascent stages of the content boom that the digital world will see."
Kapoor's comments, though surprising, indeed reflect the state of the online platform, which, despite the digital boom occurring several years ago, has taken this long to become a part of the lives of the citizens. Yet, the unchecked proliferation of Indian web shows in recent times is evidence of the speedy growth of the industry. Today, the digital space is that pie that every top production house wants a piece of.
Sumeet Vyas and Nidhi Singh in Permanent Roommates
The trend, however, isn't restricted to producers and filmmakers alone. Revered Bollywood celebrities are also turning their heads towards the digital space to explore a possible career. It might be justified to say that the success of YouTube sensations like Permanent Roommates and Tripling's actor Sumeet Vyas, and Bang Baaja Baaraat's Angira Dhar, who've successfully become the Shah Rukh Khans and Deepika Padukones of the web world, have spurred this shift. News of Swara Bhaskar taking the digital route with #ItsNotThatSimple, a show based on extramarital affairs, came close on the heels of her highly acclaimed performance in Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's Nil Battey Sannata, while Richa Chadha's web show Powerplay garnered attention for reportedly being made on a budget of R72 crore.
Actor Ali Fazal, who will star alongside Hollywood veteran Judi Dench in the British film Victoria and Abdul, also ventured online with Bang Baaja Baaraat. "The internet is on the brink of an explosion. People are watching more movies on the net than in theatres," he reasons, adding that under the current situations, Bollywood is left with little option, but to take the leap. "Mainstream films aren't working, but offbeat movies [being content heavy] go on to win accolades. It is pleasantly scary."
Ali Fazal and Amol Parashar
But, with renowned B-Town folk making the move, are the current celebrities of the web series flustered? "I am very worried," confesses Tripling's Maanvi Gagroo, with a hint of laughter that attempts to lighten the tension. "Obviously there is something called star power. Even I would love to watch a web show if my favourite celeb was in it. If they venture into our world, it is likely that our careers will be affected," she says honestly. But Tripling's Chitvan, Amol Parashar feels their influx would only mean an increase in opportunities for the existing stars. "If they move towards the online world, there will be more projects, and hence more work for the actors in general. Also, it may also create more vacancies in Bollywood," he laughs.
Vyas, however, is unfazed by the developments. "Those who've made a mark on the web have done so owing to the honesty with which they could essay the part. We do not look as good or dance as well as our Bollywood counterparts, and hence rely on our talent and the content we give the nod to, to draft our success chart," he says. Vyas adds that unless those willing to explore the medium arrive with the sole intention of delivering good stories, survival may be tough.
"When we write stories, you'll never hear us enquire if a bikini-clad model is needed to boost views. That concept doesn't exist here. Everything revolves around the story. You merely pen a script you really want to narrate, and then follow the story's demands," he informs. Chadha seconds Vyas's opinion, and adds, "You can't deny that the scripts are significantly better than those seen in Bollywood. Besides, since there is limited censorship, you can play with the language, sexual content and scenes showcasing the use of cigarettes or drugs. These are the things one worries about while making movies."
Parashar, however, adds that while the minimal censorship is celebrated, there is never a need to mindlessly showcase anything inappropriate. "The use of drugs or other elements need not be shown because you have the freedom. It is only done if the story demands it," says Parashar, further adding that the brutality with which the web-watchers deliver their feedback will keep the stars on their toes. "There is a need to constantly be good. People may love you for a while, but one poor performance later, they will pull you down ruthlessly."
But, will Bollywood's fascination for mesmerising beauty eventually get, the better of this world that's currently dominated by great content? "We hope not," says Vyas. "It's important to note that the audience chooses the shows they wish to watch. It's not thrown into your face. This implies that there is a huge demand for videos that offer meaningful content, more than those that are only visually appealing." Gagroo further asserts that the platform has garnered attention since the characters are perfectly relatable. "You don't need to cast a girl with the best height and figure like you do in films. Here, people associate with your character and want to see someone who looks the part," she signs off.