Kannada filmmaker Pawan Kumar is grateful to digitisation for having opened a new avenue in which he can showcase his directorial talent. He has been offered the chance to direct two episodes of Leila, an upcoming web series on the entertainment streaming platform Netflix. Kumar, who is known for critically acclaimed films such as Lucia, U-turn and Ondhu Motteya Kathe, will direct the last two episodes of the six-part series which has been adapted from a novel of the same name—set in a dystopian future.
Kumar reveals Netflix has also hired two other Indian directors to helm two episodes each for the series. “Deepa Mehta and Shanker Raman are the other two filmmakers who will be adapting Leila on screen,” he says. The web series will feature actors Huma Qureshi and Siddharth Suryanarayan in lead roles. The story, which is centred on a mother in search of her daughter, Leila, is essentially a tale of faith, loss and longing. Kumar shares that the web series was not a project that he went to seek out of his way.
Apparently, he was offered the project by Netflix, which had developed and worked on the concept prior to bringing the respective filmmakers on board. “As the theme (of the series) seemed interesting, I picked it up. This is also the first time I am directing content that has been written by somebody else. I wanted to experience that process as well,” he says.
Digital platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar have come as a boon for Indian directors such as Kumar, who are constantly experimenting with content. He welcomes the freedom that comes with it. “The screens have come to our hands now, haven’t they? Unlike earlier, we don’t have to get involved in programming the mind of the audience for a certain type of film. There is no such thing called a time slot for a film anymore. People can view at any time of their choosing. OTT platforms have broken many barriers,” he says and adds, “This evolution is also showing us that different types of content have their own unique audience.”
Kumar, who is also a producer, screenplay writer and actor, comes from theatre background. He has written scripts and acted in plays such as The Final Rehearsal and The Woman in Me back in the day. He has worked as an associate director with filmmaker Yogaraj Bhat and subsequently has made his directorial debut with the film, Lifeu Ishtene, in 2011. When asked about the distinction between the processes of making a film and a web series, Kumar says, “It is all the same, only the medium of screening has changed.”
The 36-year-old shares that when he started off as a filmmaker, his idea was not to have a big movie release, rather it was about the kind of content he would be showcasing to the audience. “Hence, I’ve never differentiated between taking a project on the basis of whether it is for the silver screen or for a digital platform. Earlier theatres were used to reach out to a larger audience, today, OTT services are doing the same,” he says.
As a content-driven filmmaker, Kumar believes that it is not necessary that every film has to get a release on the big screen in movie halls. “The same content can go straight to a digital platform. Today, the big screen movies are more about watching 3D or action—something that is larger than life. But digital platforms don’t need you to do all that. I look at it (OTT platforms) as the way forward,” he explains. After Leila, Kumar plans to begin working on his next full-length feature. “I just have a month to complete shooting for the web series, and I will be back to directing a film after that,” he concludes.