For three veteran actors who play the lead in a web series for the first time, it was a leap of faith into a young medium. And boy, are they having a blast
Brijendra Kala (snail-paced driver in Jab We Met) is flanked by Gajraj Rao (bumbling inspector from Talvar) and Atul Srivastava (Salman’s father in Bajrangi Bhaijaan)
Veteran actors Brijendra Kala, Gajraj Rao and Atul Srivastava's latest assignment is surprisingly close to their real life predicament. All critically acclaimed performers, easily striding both television and film, they are making a debut as lead actors on online entertainment platform The Viral Fever's new show, F.A.T.H.E.R.S.
The script requires them to be old timers testing new terrain. It's the story of three senior citizens, retired, attempting to launch a start-up. It's a first for the web, too. It's not often that you see a digital series centred around senior citizens.
"Where is the set?" Rao says, recalling his reaction to the day he walked into the TVF office to shoot the first episode. It was a small camera setup, with less lighting than he was used to. "The mind is conditioned to shooting in a studio. Initially, I was worried if I had made the wrong decision," says the 46-year-old, who heads ad film firm, Code Red. "I had been hearing of this 'digital wave' that was taking over the world. At the time, even though I couldn't figure what it was, I thought I should be aware of it." He happened to meet Nidhi Singh of Permanent Roommates fame, which in turn led to the viral sketch, Tech Conversations With Dad. That marked Rao's initiation into web entertainment. "I thought the whole setup would be very dude-like. But these are 20-somethings who know what they are doing, and yet, are open to ideas. Content is sacrosanct to them."
While this is the first time that all three actors are sharing screen space, theirs is a friendship of 20 years. "We know each other from our theatre days in Delhi," says Kala, 61. "I had not done television for over 10 years because I wanted to do films. My worry was this - what if I became too famous on TV? No one would hire me for cinema," he laughs.
When the web series was first explained to him, he was sceptical about how a 'series' that didn't air on TV would work. "I feel in many ways, this medium is similar to its oldest counterpart - theatre. You see immediate audience reaction in the number of hits and subscribers, and of course, comments," he adds.
Rao recalls a couple of 15-year-olds walking up to him at a bookstore in Juhu recently, complimenting him on the performance. "'Good stuff, dude', they said. It was genuine. It felt nice. They are my audience now," he smiles. A few things, however, have taken getting used to. The use of expletives, for instance. "Abusing is common among fathers and sons. But, there has to be a limit, and it must warrant a reason. We can't use expletives simply because we are catering to a young audience," Rao says. To which Kala adds, "Just because there is no censor board here doesn't mean we aren't mindful. How then is it quality entertainment?"
The veterans also welcome the flexibility that the medium allows. "We don't need to create a bank of episodes, unlike for TV," says Srivastava. "Each episode can be treated like a sketch. We are shooting the fourth episode. We don't know if there will be a fifth.
If it happens, it will be because we have quality to offer. Not because we need to reach the number five rating."