What constitutes as entertainment today depends on where you see it. Television has competition from digital Apps. Cinema is not just consumed on the big screen but is also available in the palm of your hand. Content is no longer bound by limitations such as time, location, or even the censors. While the last filter may just be the ‘freeing’ factor for filmmakers, the rest of the elements when put together means the content we give out today needs to cater to all or any one of the platforms available — theatre, television and mobile screens. With Sun Nxt announcing 1.1 million downloads in just four days and Hotstar advertising its first Tamil web-series directed by Balaji Mohan, content creation is taking forms which didn’t exist even five years ago.
So what does it imply for the dynamic film industry? More work definitely. With digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar and Sun Nxt, the avenues to explore content of varying formats are now available for creators. Storytelling can now become a medium-specific exercise. Web series certainly gives better scope for the narration of tales which may not be aired on television or be given the green signal by the censors. Edgy content becomes more accessible, and with hugely popular examples on Netflix and Amazon, generated by our Western counterparts, it is only a matter of time before Tamil writers think of their own House of Cards or Big Little Lies.
What remains to be seen however is how the presentation of the content in a regional language matches up to what the internet citizen is by now used to seeing — in terms of, say, production values or cast. Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman star in films, and also in series which air only on Netflix and Amazon. Also, it helps that the content being in English, makes it universal, and hence, production budgets are comparable to that of a film. Will this factor play a role in producing say a Tamil or Telugu series?
Unlike television which by now has standardised a ‘per-episode’ budget, how can the cost of a web series be determined in advance? And if the existing consumer is used to a particular standard online, how will a regional series match up to that? How will technical elements like cinematography, music and cast come together for bigger concepts, which transcend stories of love or friendship (usually sitcom material)?
For example, can a story like Baahubali be made as a web series like Game of Thrones? Would our economics allow for such experiments? One theme which can get a better lease of life online is women-centric stories set in modern, realistic concepts. If television today caters to women, then so can a web-series address issues pertaining to women (maybe even made by women technicians) — not in a mega-serial soppy format but narrated in bold, bright and cinematic grammar with a good cast. Would you not like a series like that?