FPJ Roundtable 2019: Web series to box office numbers, experts speak on the new buzz in entertainment

Shikha JainUpdated: Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 03:22 AM IST

SHIKHA JAIN presents key observations from the roundtable discussion ‘Farewell 2018, Hello 2019: The new buzz in entertainment’ organised by The Free Press Journal, powered by Indian Oil

A diverse panel comprising actors, directors and trade experts participated in the Free Press Journal roundtable discussion, ‘Farewell 2018, Hello 2019: The new buzz in entertainment’, moderated by Bharathi S Pradhan. From dwelling on the explosion of the OTT medium, to lessons learnt from the box office, to trends that are poised to continue into 2019, the panel discussion threw up several interesting insights…

Amit Sharma
Director, Badhaai Ho, Tevar

The Badhaai Ho journey started in 2015 when I heard a one line idea of a 50-year-old mother getting pregnant. It was written for an ad film and the idea was not presented to the client so I told the writer to thank his boss for that! As it was a difficult subject it took almost two years to write the rest of the story. From day one we were very clear that it had to be comedy and it could not be a serious film.

Somebody asked me on a forum, what is content-driven film? So, I said whatever is written in the script is the content and it’s either bad or good. Nobody intends to make a bad film. One key learning from 2018 is that content-driven films — films which have a good storyline — are going to work. I was watching some public reviews and I noticed people were talking about scripts, stories, performances and discussing why they liked the film. Audiences have become analysts because as the film releases they say ‘This film will do Rs 100 crore and this won’t’. Only performances may not work because it’s a package and this is not a recent phenomenon. Producers have started taking risks and so have the actors but today nobody knows what will work or what will not.

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In 2018 itself we have seen a variety of films — Raazi, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Badhaai Ho and Stree. With Stree, a new genre was created — horror comedy. Now people are ready to experiment, and bolder subjects are getting a hold. 2018 has been really amazing for directors, actors, the entertainment business and audiences too. The audience has changed and they know which film they want to watch on seeing the trailers. After that, all is word of mouth.

In one of the interviews, somebody asked me if stardom is going to end, I said it’s never going to end. All the big stars like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Aamir Khan have their own set of fans and they will always be loved because in India people worship stars. Films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Dangal had scripts along with the superstars so it doubled the scores. Therefore, if the script is good, nothing is going to take the film down.

Talking about OTT, every technician is busy today. People who were doing short roles are now doing big roles and everyone is getting an opportunity. It’s a joy working with the younger generation and them being lazy is a millennial myth. The kind of population we have, we should be doing Rs 3000-4000 crore business but we are not, because only 3-4% public is going to cinema halls to watch films. We are just getting bigger in terms of scripts, movies, ideas and more. 2019 might have something else in store for us and for the audience too.

Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Director, Bareilly Ki Barfi,
Nil Battey Sannata

In the kind of cinema we saw, we are the storytellers and we think from the heart. We rarely think of an actor before we finish writing because the script is the hero. It took almost one year to finish writing Nil Battey Sannata and Bareilly Ki Barfi took one and a half year to write. One thing I learnt is that the film stories are the most important heroes. If you have a good story and a good actor, you are going to make around Rs 70 crore. But if you are making the same film for a certain budget with a bigger actor then your numbers will increase and Dangal is a great example.

We are talking to the generation today who are the decision makers — those who know what they want and they are also the ones who influence their parents, friends and maybe outsiders too. Bareilly Ki Barfi was a good learning as you can have stars working together. Bareilly Ki Barfi was the dal chawal and that’s why people enjoyed it. So it’s about how am I going to entertain the audience who has everything at the click of the button? It’s so important to understand their psychology as well. 2018 was also about being fearless and from all the aspects — from director, producers and distributors too. If everyone is on the same page then it means something is working.

In this era, a movie is not only about a hero and heroine but about the characters who make the film. We need to be creating more roles for actors. Cinema is not the only platform for actors now. You have OTT platforms and you need more actors because the options are many and everyone is busy.

OTT is the most outstanding thing that has happened for older people too. I look at my mother now who is 67 and she binge watches web series till 12.30 in the night. The quality of work that we are shooting has to be on par with what we are going to see in 2020 and not in 2018.

Akshaye Rathi,
Film Exhibitor and Distributor

2018 has been a very interesting year in terms of quality of content, but it’s important to look at it with the backdrop of 2017 which was a bad year for the film industry save for Baahubali 2. Like Thugs of Hindostan, and Zero of 2018, 2017’s films like Jab Harry Met Sejal and Tubelight, didn’t do well at all. They had superstars but no great scripts and that’s something that came back a lot stronger in 2018.

Sonu ke Titu Ki Sweety, which is as different as Stree which is very different from Badhaai Ho showed us the importance of script. We are only building on what we have done in 2018. If you look at the slate of 2019 we are coming to a point where the blend of stardom, which is something that works in a big way at the box office, is coming together with great scripts and great stories, hence there will be more Sanjus.

Race 3 did what it did because of the starpower and Stree did what it did, courtesy the script. Be it BMW or Maruti, what’s going to run it is the fuel. What’s going to run the cinema is the script because that’s what is going to get the people. With OTTs people can watch it as per their convenience so the consumption habit has changed over time.

Karan Anshuman
Creator and Director, Inside Edge, Mirzapur

From the moment web-series took off say six-seven years ago with the House of Cards, it has been very exciting. For me, it was a new way of telling stories because somewhere being a film critic you end up watching too many films and they all start looking the same. In those two hours there are only that many things happening with the characters and so it becomes a bit predictable. I found the two-hour format limiting. Making web-series was very fresh, a whole new way of telling stories.

The characters don’t have to end in a certain manner, they don’t have to follow a set up like ‘crisis, climax and resolution’. It was almost like books because it has so many ways of telling a story. Plus there is so much pressures that comes with cinema that it was very constricting. What was also difficult was the casting because a lot of actors didn’t want to take up the roles at that time. With Mirzapur, it was totally different as I could pick who I wanted to, plus I was spoilt for choice in terms of actors. It also takes a lot of time commitment but for me it’s a lot of fun.

With films you might have one writer and it would get lonely but here, you are working with five writers hunting for the best ideas hence, there is a whole different way of doing things here. Mirzapur had three directors and we were doing our own bits. If you are doing things all by yourself it’s overwhelming and it also drains you. Web-series are just three times a film!

Raj Kumar Gupta
Director, Raid, No One Killed Jessica

For me as a filmmaker, from the beginning of my career, writing a good story has always been a priority. Through my journey I have also realised that script is the only thing that is loyal to you. I have believed in the content that I have made and I am happy about how the film turned out.

The other filmmakers who had believed in their content have worked as well and people are talking about it. From my point of view, that is the most important thing that has happened. Film is a collective effort and it’s not only about what the director thinks. And in my opinion, more films have worked in 2018 than 2017.

Ramesh Taurani
Producer, Managing Director,
Tips Industries Ltd

Films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Dangal had scripts along with the superstars hence, it doubled the scores. So star-power is always there. If Zero had any other actor instead of Shah Rukh Khan, it would have made even less at the box office. All these big stars have their own loyal audience but yes, the film didn’t turn out to be good and somewhere it went wrong. And it’s the director’s fault too as they couldn’t get the film to reach that level.

These days whoever has a phone is a film critic and there is too much negativity around it. Zero and Thugs of Hindostan would have done Rs 20-30 crore more if there had been less negativity. People don’t understand economics but Race 3 did more business than the first two parts. But with a Salman Khan film, people expect it to cross Rs 200-300 crore.

Also when dealing with a big star, the director should be bold enough to say no if he thinks the actor is not sitting well with the character. He should be very sharp with his thoughts. It’s also confirmed news that some agencies were hired to kill the Salman Khan brand name as you need the star power to enter the Rs 300 crore club. Cinema, web series and television are going to stay because we have a mix of crowd.

Raveena Tandon
Actress, Producer, TV host

The plus point is that now the stars also want to experiment and they are not hesitating to look beyond the commercial trappings. For example, Zero, was a great experiment that Shah Rukh Khan tried. The script did bounce around but it was something completely unheard of. For a ’90s superstar doing mushy romantic stuff, to take this big step of playing a height-challenged person is appreciable.

A little lesson learnt in 2018 is that being experimental is not good enough — a great script along is also required and you will have the hold. There will always be a challenge for filmmakers like Amit Sharma. If he signs a star, he knows that much percent of fans will come but after that the real challenge begins — script, story, director, narration, performance and the cast because that will get the public but after that what will get collected? Even if you have a superstar, content ultimately is king. Today, even actors, especially the younger generation, say if you have a good script come to me.

We are also forgetting that the number one reason for everyone getting the courage to experiment is the audience. In today’s day and age, the audience is much more aware and world cinema has seeped in. They are watching different things, they are watching intelligent cinema. The lines have fused and now non commercial selling stars can also do really well because thankfully, the audience is accepting and recognising the performances.

Speaking about OTT, not everybody can do it. Flights have also become easier now because we can download the episodes. Now it’s not about when are we landing but why are we landing! There are no inhibitions and you can show what you want to show.

Saqib Saleem
Actor, Bombay Talkies, Race 3, Rangbaaz

It has been a very interesting year for me. I did a big ticket film called Race 3 and I had never worked before in a big film before this. It was an experience for somebody who comes from Delhi and I was a fan boy on the set. I had Mr India (Anil Kapoor) and Prem Bhai (Salman Khan) in front of me and I had Soldier (Bobby Deol) next, so I was like what was happening? Please, pinch me! People gave a lot of love but I got equal criticism for the first time.

I had done smaller films — whether or not they worked — I was never criticised as an actor. So, I went into a space where I didn’t know what to do next. And then these web series came my way. I took it extremely lightly. I was also a little snobbish because I was unsure about it. But then I started seeing all the other actors starting work on the web and look where the web has reached now. I thought it’s better to be open to all the ideas and I have really enjoyed it. As a medium it’s the best way to express till the time the Censor Board doesn’t come in the way.

Budgets are really good for web series. My guard who was watching Bhojpuri films on his mobile is now watching Mirzapur — we have reached there. There is an audience which definitely wants to consume that content and before we weren’t reaching out to them because they didn’t have the money to go to the theatres to buy even a Rs 50 ticket. My father doesn’t have an attention span to watch a complete film and the last film he saw completely was Mughal-E-Azam.

He has not even seen my films entirely because he sits for 30 minutes and then falls asleep. He called me the other day and said, ‘Beta, tu web series hi kar’ because the episodes are short and hence he can see my work. I have done eight films but the amount of calls I have got for my web series Rangbaaz is incomparable.

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