Aparnna Hajirnis makes a plea for more women directors and stronger women characters in web series
The Indian media industry has been completely revolutionised by the web series phenomenon. Generally, when we watch web series, we aren’t watching it with someone in our living room or in a movie theatre. We are watching it on our cellphones or tablets and that’s a very personal experience. If we love it, we can immediately rewind the scene or if we hate it, we can stop it instantaneously. We are into the series and that’s why it’s personal.
The other reason why web series are working is because the content is original and relatable. The Indian entertainment consumption trend is going through a sea change with new content exploding on YouTube. Undoubtedly, TVF is the pioneer to bring in this change of original web series with others (Y Films, Arre, Voot, Bindass, ScoopWhoop, Dice Media) following suit. However, unlike short films, web series’ viewership is still governed by either big brands leveraging their marketing funds or new found stars on web series. Sumeet Vyas, Naveen Kasturia, Mithila Palkar are some of the movers and shakers of web series with Biswapati Sarkar being the king maker.
Another interesting trend is that most content providers are trying to divert traffic to their own websites instead of YouTube, because of limited monetisation opportunity on YouTube (TVF starting TVF Play, Voot at Voot.com) It makes more business sense for them, but it is killing the user experience of watching content seamlessly on one platform.
The year 2015 observed a pivotal shift in the medium of serving and consumption of entertainment. With a growing numbers of shows in the form of TV mini-series on YouTube or web series as they are popularly known, the first step towards the future of the entertainment industry has already been taken.
Web series are exploring a gamut of issues and topics. Gender issues are at the forefront of world politics and entertainment. In India, subjects like rape and misogyny are finally being addressed publicly after centuries of silence. Feminism is a relatively new concept — and a word regarded warily for its associations with the West. But it’s finally beginning to have its moment.
Proof: In Y Films’ new Indian web series Man’s World, the main character, Kiran, is a man who is tired of hearing women talk about feminism. He thinks that women actually have it easy, and that they won’t like true equality because they will no longer be favoured. His frustration eventually brings about a Freaky Friday-esque scenario: Kiran wakes up in a world run by women, where men face daily injustices and struggle collectively to break free. Also, now they’re the ones who have periods!
The recent launches of Ghoul and Sacred Games, have put the focus on women and strong women characters, in particular. The audiences, are consuming bold content and the makers are not afraid of putting it out there as well. Says Richa Chadha, another blue-eyed girl of the internet savvy people, “Women are playing strong characters in web series which always have something to say or something to do. And I am really happy to be part of a show like Inside Edge which has a strong character like Zarina Malik who is trying to make a difference wherever she goes. She is ambitious and empowered, as are the other women characters written in the show. Season 2 will promise to show more gritty characters.”
And who can forget Vikramaditya Motwane who is now a key figure in the world of web series as his Sacred Games has been loved by people not just in India but also abroad. He maintains, “Honestly, Netflix and Amazon have come with an agenda that they are going to make a difference. The explosion happened on Netflix after House of Cards, but nobody really imagined that this would be so huge. We knew that there is an audience for web series, but no one anticipated so many people going gung-ho on the web series. We really had no idea that Sacred Games would be this huge, till it released. The reaction has taken us by surprise. Love Per Square Foot, which is Netflix India’s first original, had soaring numbers which zapped everyone. The audiences have adapted to watching the content in the streaming way.”
And have filmmakers been able to put across their ideals more clearly as there are no censorship rules?
Motwane adds, “It is great that censorship doesn’t apply to web series and the filmmakers can put across their views more empathetically, but there has to be self-censorship applied. We have pushed the envelope in the right direction and in the right way with both our shows, Ghoul and Sacred Games. We have attacked the hypocrisy of the government and the redundant Censor Board. We never faced any protests on the streets, so what would the Censor Board be scared of? We did have our share of controversies, but then you can’t please everyone.”
Sreemoyee Bhattacharya, an independent filmmaker also has her share of beef with the Censor Board. She avers, “Digitalisation of web-content is an evolution in itself. It is much easier to watch shows now. The masses now want to watch all kinds of cinema, not just commercial.”
However, it has to be noted that most of the characters created for women are created and given treatment by male filmmakers as there are very few women filmmakers. “The digital market is much easier to create complex characters, because it is not just about raking in the moolah, but also about the people having an option to watch it or not. It is very interesting to see how male characters are built right now especially in Lust Stories,” says Sreemoyee.
However, since male filmmakers are still creating female characters, we are still not getting the pulse of the femininity in these characters. As Bollywood is still the big boys club, web series is apparently also going down the same way.