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March 03, 2016

Indian Web Series You Should Be Binge-Watching

Text by Ranjabati Das

With Gen Next looking for content on the go, the web series – an exciting and emerging online medium – is now a legitimate form of entertainment in India

For those who have been wearing blinders, it’s all in the name: web series refer to an episodic show released exclusively for the web, though it may not follow the once-a-week format common on TV. The box still rules, thanks to a sheer volume of choices, advertisers and loyal consumers, or creatures of habit, whichever way you choose to look at it. But online content beats having to watch whatever’s ‘on’ – you get to choose your shows at will, and watch them with minimum ads. And while foreign-made shows (like Netflix’s multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winning House of Cards) have accumulated huge hits from viewers all around the world in the last few years, 2015 was definitely the year when Indian web series finally came of age.

The one on the tip of everybody’s tongue, Pitchers by The Viral Fever (TVF), is well-written, funny, has a cast that confidently shows off their acting chops and a production quality which is not by any standards amateurish. Not to mention a budget of roughly rupees 50 lakh per episode – attributes that earned it over a couple of million views, creating household names of its fresh-faced cast, at least among the urbane, tech-savvy youth. This web series debuted on a new streaming platform TVFPlay where most of its episodes would be released before being uploaded to YouTube a week later.

Focussing on the highs and lows of a bunch of boys who want to launch their own start-up, it has hit a chord with the young aspirational target audience that’s seen a number of success stories in this sphere in the last decade. “The theme is relevant to India but we were not trying to cash in on the start-up hype but tell human stories,” clarifies director Amit Golani, a partner at TVF. The story goes that TVF founder Arunabh Kumar, previously in the spotlight for a number of spoof videos including the cheekily named Qtiyapa series, was eager to take a chance on himself instead of waiting to get recognised after being rejected by mainstream biggie MTV. And it paid off. The show scores by staying away from clichés – and, unlike its competition, flows well. In true web series tradition, the script is in Hinglish and least a couple of its actors are familiar faces: Naveen Kasturia, one of the protagonists and a TVF regular, has appeared in a feature film, Sulemani Keeda, in the year before last, while Maanvi Gagroo, who plays his girlfriend Shreya, has been seen in No One Killed Jessica and, more recently, PK.

At a time when the Golmaal series, a blockbuster maketh, I welcome this new wave which is much more attuned to my sensibilities. Content is more important online where you can watch pretty much anything you want. So the bunch of storylines on offer on the web don’t lose their plots, are progressive and are keeping it real, thanks to the absence of censorship as compared to traditional media (on Indian TV, ‘lesbian’ and ‘bastard’ are among the words being muted or replaced; more topical is the recent stir that was created as a result of the powers that be deeming it appropriate to blur and edit parts in two of the most awaited releases in the last four months – Deadpool and Spectre). None of that nauseous saas-bahu melodrama, repeated ad nauseum, will fly here either; instead you have Pechkas Pictures and ScoopWhoop Talkies’ Baked, about three college students who want to start a night-time food delivery service.

In Y-Films’– the youth films studio of Yash Raj Films (YRF) that creates original online content – Man’s World, a young man wakes up to find a world where gender roles have been reversed. A clever plot twist that shows the protagonist (and viewers) what women go through on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, there are cameos by the likes of Kalki Koechlin and Parineeti Chopra (trust Yash Raj!), who may not consider TV – misconstrued as a demotion of sorts for Bollywood stars – even as a good turn. But acting in a web series has no such baggage or pitfalls, till now, and is a great way to connect with metropolitan India – veritably one of the fastest-growing Internet populations in the world.

Others who have picked up on the potential of web series include Balaji Telefilms and Eros International (the latter’s upcoming show, The Client, starring Bipasha Basu, is apparently modelled on Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal). Crossing over to the online space from the tube has also occurred – Star’s Phir Bhi Na Maane Badtameez Dil moved to Hotstar, the company’s digital and mobile entertainment platform, à la The Mindy Project which was revived on Hulu after three seasons on Fox. So popular was the Hindi soap that you can now catch a sequel that has been launched only for streaming purposes.

Much is motivated by the increasing number of youngsters who have already tuned out of TV, and are looking for content on the go. And with smartphones and tablets taking over the Indian masses, and broadband becoming more affordable (although still not the norm at cafes and coffee shops like it is abroad…hey, did Central Perk, in Friends, have Wi-Fi?), the field for web series has been thrown open wide in India. “With Netflix also entering India now, digital content in 2016 will flood the market,” concurs Golani.

This new outlet allows big production houses (like Yash Raj, Balaji or Eros) ample opportunity to test and train talent – and also works fabulously for actors who don’t subscribe to the Bollywood age, must-be-a-good-dancer or look biases. They prefer to work this space rather than the small screen where the majority of characters are unrelatable and actors are likely to get typecast. “It’s an excellent stepping stone not just for actors but also for new writers, composers, lyricists, production designers…across the board, frankly. You test a bunch of fresh talent both on and off screen and then you potentially start the mother ship, which is features. It is an efficient way to sieve people out as entry barriers are lower in terms of budget, which could be five to six crores; not a risk you can take in films (which are much more expensive to make) straight up,” says Ashish Patil, vice president, YRF.

Although web television as a genre can’t compete with the telly in the country, perhaps an Indian version of the Webby or Streamy Awards isn’t too far away.

Worth A Dekko

1. After being banned and policed for being immoral, All India Bakchod (AIB) teamed up with Star’s Hotstar for a new show – On Air With AIB (OAWAIB), an original Indian news satire show.
2. Watch out for Rohan Sippy’s web series Side Hero starring Kunaal Roy Kapur and Konkona Sen Sharma this year – the actors will reportedly play (a fictionalised version of) themselves.
3. Give Kanan Gill and Biswa Kalyan Rath’s Pretentious Movie Reviews a go.
4. Mission Everest follows mountaineers Samir Patham and Sauraj Jhingan as they scale the highest mountain in the world.

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