Spreading the Web

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The past few years we have witnessed a massive growth of digital media across different sections of the population. What has been even more fascinating is the steady rise and demand for stand up comedy, online web series and digital content. We have witnessed the stars from these platforms rise at an exponential rate. Our team at School LIVE tried to bring together some of big names in the game for you. And here is what they had to say.

Amol Prashar

You graduated from a celebrated college, IIT Delhi, only to quit your job and enter into a completely different arena. How was the transition?

It was not planned to be a long-term shift. I had been doing a lot of theatre when I was in college, and kept itching to do it when I was working but couldn’t find the time. I thought I’d take a break for sometime and do theatre. I ended meeting some people in Bombay and joined a production here. And then one thing led to another and there was no looking back.

 

You have worked in a films, theatre, advertisements, and Web series. What among these, do you enjoy the most?

I have enjoyed each and every medium. I think the enjoyment comes from how well the material is written and how interesting the character is, that you are playing. When you work with the right team, your writer and the director, that always means the project is going to be rewarding and fulfilling, irrespective of the medium.

You quit your passion for science and tech to pursue acting, do you ever miss those?

Well, frankly, yes. I have devoted a large part of my life to science, so it is not easy to get rid of that ‘keeda’ and I don’t want to get rid of it also. I do read a lot of science in my free time, have subscribed to quite a few scientific journals online. That is one way, I can keep that side of my brain active.

Is the competition to be the best, as fierce as it is in other industries, such as TV or films?

The people I have worked with so far in the web world are people I have known from before and I had a professional/personal equation with. It felt very collaborative and not very competitive. I think that’s the nature of this medium at this point, because it has just sprung up, and everybody is focusing on doing good work more than anything else. I am sure competition will rise as more and more players come into the scene. Let’s see how long it takes before it becomes as fierce.

If you could, what would be one advice you would give to your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to learn something in music. I was a good student, was heavily into sports, then later into dramatics, but music is one part that completely got missed. I really wish now that I knew how to sing, or to play at least one instrument. Maybe I will cover that soon.

What is the one thing you would you like to tell the young adults reading this?

I would advise them to listen to everyone but follow no-one. It’s important to listen because people have seen the world more or in a different manner than you and that gives you perspective. But it is not advisable to follow exactly in their path. It’s important to find your own answers, others can only guide you, because what works for one person rarely works for another in exactly the same manner.

Maanvi Gagroo

Having worked in a Disney TV show, films, theatre, advertisements, YouTube videos, and Web series, which among these did you enjoy the most?

They all come with their set of pros and cons obviously, which is why all the media are thriving. Films are my ultimate goal, so yes a good film with a good team and script is hugely satisfying. Web is extremely refreshing since makers are more experimental and the space given to actors is far more. So I guess these two are my favourites.

How were you introduced to the TVF?

I had a couple of common friends (Nidhi Bisht and Amol Prashar) with the TVF gang. They introduced me to their content and to those involved. TVF at the time was still upcoming and these guys operated from a much smaller place. We would all hang out at their office and then one day I received a call for Pitchers from Nidhi Bisht, who was casting for the project at the time.

How does it feel to be one of the forerunners of this change in the world of entertainment, esp. a change in the way women/girlfriends are portrayed in dramas?

It feels great no doubt. I believe a few years from now, when we look back at this new wave of digital content, TVF will always be seen as a pioneer of that movement. Hopefully, we’ll create more memorable content and I’ll play more characters that leave a lasting impact on people’s minds, and hearts.

Talking about the change in the portrayal of ‘regular’ female characters, I hope other people follow suit. I hope this change can be a permanent one and we don’t regress back to writing unidimensional characters for women.

What do you think is the  major difference between the television/bollywood community and the web series community?

I think one major difference, as pointed out, is definitely the female characters. Unlike TV/Bollywood, females on web aren’t limited to playing glam dolls and/or playing the love interest of the hero. TV has template female roles – bubbly (usually the lead’s friend or sister ), Bitchy (usually the negative lead, sleeveless wearing, English speaking, weirdly accessorised vamp) and the seedhi saadhi (usually bahu/beti, wearing traditional Indian attire). And Bollywood also loosely follows this format. Web, however, focuses on portraying reality. It’s very rooted in the current youth stratum.

Do you think your fan base is different compared to other medias, in terms of their perception of you?

A lot of the fans/followers are die hard fans of the content. And because there is such an emphasis on reality in my shows, people consider us their friends. They get very excited and find us accessible to them. I’m also extremely interactive with my fans on most social media platforms so I guess that adds to it. It becomes odd at times though, when they come to me at the weirdest of times asking for a selfie but then again it’s all part and parcel of the game. I’m not complaining 🙂 

Most of you working together in the web phenomena seem quite friendly with one another, does that work as an advantage compared to mainstream television?

I’m very friendly in general, as a person. Also I feel getting bogged down by insecurities and comparisons will only serve as a temporary extrinsic motivation. Beyond a point, it has to come from within.

We at TVF are good friends. We’ve known each other since before our TVF days. We’re also fairly secure individuals so there’s mostly a sense of solidarity amongst us. 

What message would you like to give to the young adults reading this?

Keep watching our shows. Please continue writing to me. I read all the comments and messages and try to reply to most of them as well and like I said, it feels lovely.

If you want to pursue a career in this field, or any for that matter, you must first gain experience as an individual. You must first understand how human beings function, how you function and stuff like that. I think taking a gap year to travel and to explore can do wonders and prepare one to take on life. And lastly, whatever you do, make sure you give it your all and have fun doing it.

Naveen Kasturia

 You started out as an Assistant Director and have worked with some of the big names in Bollywood, what made you take up acting?

I actually became an actor by chance. I was working as an assistant director, and was also working on a script of my own. What got me into acting was the fact that I was living with two actors. So, every once in awhile, I would go for random auditions. Luckily, I got a commercial and some other commercials followed, and that’s how I got into acting.

 

How did you enter this new world of web series?

I got into acting by chance. I was visiting Dibakar Bannerjee in his office because I wanted to assist him on a film, but he was not looking for an assistant at that time, he was looking for an actor for a commercial that he was about to shoot. I did an introduction of myself in front of the camera and left, three days later I got a call informing me that I had got the commercial.

Something similar happened when I met Arunabh Kumar, the founder of The Viral Fever. I initially had met him because I wanted to assist him on a film that he was about to direct. However, that movie did not happen but Arunabh and I stayed in touch. Later, when he was shooting the first sketch for TVF Rowdies, he called me up and asked me to play the part of Ranvijay, I honestly did not think that I looked like Ranvijay, but I did it anyway since Arunabh had confidence in me.

Were you nervous about the success of Pitchers, since Permanent Roommates was so liked by the audience?

Ummm, well no. I honestly was not nervous because I did not have anything to lose. I was not a very well known face, so there wasn’t a standard that I had to uphold, I just wanted to give the show my best.

Biswapati Sarkar, the writer of both Permanent Roommates and Pitchers was my roommate, and so in the very initial stages of writing the shows, he shared the scripts with me. I was fascinated by both Pitchers and Permanent Roommates, but then Biswapati told me that I could play the lead in only one of the two, so I chose Pitchers.

Pitchers was supposed to be the first web series by TVF and Permanent Roommates was supposed to happen later, but Permanent Roommates got a sponsor first, and so they went ahead with it.

So you could have played Mikesh?

Yes, there was a possibility.

How does it feel to be the forerunners of this change in the world of entertainment?

It feels great! When we had started out with the idea of making a web series, Netflix was already doing really well in the West. But we had our doubts about whether the Indian audience would be interested in watching a web series. Despite the conjecture, we wanted to tell stories and so we went ahead with it, and now when I think about it, I realise that Pitchers will always be a milestone in the world of web series, it will always have a special place in the heart of our viewers.

Which is the one episode, or the one scene that you had the most fun shooting?

It’s very difficult to pick one, but if I had to choose, I would choose the scene at the end of episode 3 of Pitchers, where all four of us were in the car and we sang “Woh Sikander hi Doston”. That was really fun, because we were really having a lot of fun off screen as well, which got translated on the screen.

What message would you like to give to the young adults who wish to join the industry?

 

The one thing that I would like to say to anyone who wishes to join the industry is, come here only if you love the work. Fame and money are lucrative by products, but they come and go, what is permanent is your love for acting, storytelling or direction. This passion is what will help you persevere, because getting success in the industry, requires a lot of patience. But, if you are in love with your craft, there are always opportunities waiting for you.

 

Kanan Gill

 

Your fans are well versed with the story of how you quit your job to join the entertainment industry, and then a couple of months later, you and Biswa came up with Pretentious movie reviews. At what point did you realise that you have hit gold with this idea?

 

I think it was about three reviews in, when people started really watching them. I don’t think we were really expecting this to be big. I know it always sounds insincere when people say that but it really is true. We always thought that the really big idea was around the corner, and to some extent I still think that’s true.

 

From being a wildly popular stand up comedian, you went on to write a series of your own, How Insensitive! from there you went on to  act in a couple of Web series and now you are working in a Bollywood movie. Which among these did you enjoy the most?

 

I enjoy all of it, but I get bored doing any one thing at a time. I think if you’re interested and involved in varied interests it helps all of them, especially if you’re in the area of the artists. I encourage everyone I know to try new things that are different to what they already know. So to try to keep life exciting for myself, I’m always looking for fun new things to do.

 

What is the difference in being a stand up comedian and an actor. Which of the two was personally more challenging for you?

 

With stand up, I write everything and I know exactly how I want it to be performed. The writing is really the hard (and most fun) part.

When you’re acting, you’re stepping into someone else’s vision. That’s really the challenging part, to try to understand what kind of role you’re given, and tapping into the mind of whoever has written it for you and what their idea of the role really is.

 

What do you think is the major difference between the mainstream bollywood and the Youtube community?

 

Bollywood is a decades old institution. There are processes in place, there is a way things happen. There are a lot of people knocking on the door and it doesn’t open very often. Things take time, and a lot of money to make.

YouTube is an open space where anyone can make anything and have their voices heard. My most successful videos have cost zero money to make, ironically the ones which cost me a bomb, didn’t do as well.

In both cases though, the audience is the judge.

 

How do you think the fandom works differently for you, or any other Youtuber, compared to mainstream Bollywood?

Well, Bollywood has ‘stars’ and celebrities, which we’ve been conditioned to think of as somewhat elevated beings. Even though that’s on the verge of change now, people think of Bollywood actors as somehow different from themselves. In contrast, YouTube fandom is an extended friendship. People aren’t afraid to come talk to you as a friend and equal. That’s the great part about it, although that too can have its downside.

 

What is the one thing you would want to tell your younger self, if you could? And then to the youngsters reading this today?

 

If you’re willing to work hard, everything you want will happen. Just be sure about what you want.

There’s a lot of really poisonous popular culture out there that pushes people to try to get expensive cars, or big houses or yachts or private jets. “World domination!?” Suppose you get everything. Then what?

Think of this moment right now. You’re reading this sentence. Your whole life just will be moments like these, a series of “right now’s”. There isn’t something you have to do or something that you have to buy that will bring you happiness. Success doesn’t create happiness, happiness brings in success. Work on being happy right now. Also, being kind to people. They’ll remember.

Shweta Tripathi

 Having worked in a Disney TV show, films, theatre, advertisements, YouTube videos, and Web series, which among these did you enjoy the most?

Disney will always be close to my heart because it gave me my first break with Kya Mast Hai Life, and that’s why Disney holds a special place. However, out of all the mediums, be it TV, theatre or the web, I enjoy doing feature films the most, because the thrill of seeing yourself on the big screen compares to none, and especially when you aspire to be on the big screen since childhood, the experience becomes all the more surreal.

What is the story behind your first appearance on television?

So I was at Prithvi Theatre with my friends and we were talking about how auditions happen, when a girl spotted me and told me that I would be perfect for the part of ‘Rags’ in a Disney show and that I should audition for it. I was a little sceptical but I went for the audition anyway, as I reached there, the executive producer, in a very filmy manner exclaimed, Zenia! And I thought to myself, “Okaaaay”, because I didn’t really know who Zenia or Rags was. But then I auditioned for Zenia and the executive producer asked me when can I leave my job because he wanted me to play the part of Zenia.

However, my actual first appearance on TV happened when I was 5 or 6 years old. Doordarshan used to air a talent show for kids and I had participated in it as a butterfly. Because, of course I wanted to be on TV and also because I really wanted those shoes which had lights on them. So I thought if I won the competition, my dad would get me those shoes, and I did win it and my dad got me those awesome shoes.
From Zenia (your character in Kya Mast Life Hai) to Sandhya (your character in Haramkhor), do you feel, there has been a shift, in the way women are portrayed by the media?

There is an ongoing change indeed, for instance from Seeta Geeta to the characters played by Vidya Balan, Kalki, Richa Chadda. The characters played by these women are more with the times and accurately portray womankind in its stark reality.

Similarly,  I see a huge shift in my career graph as well, from Zenia to Sandhya, my acting has become more internalised, more subtle, and I enjoy it all the more now.

What message would you like to give to the young adults reading this?

 

For all the people who want to enter the industry, I just have one thing to say, or maybe a couple!

Know why do you want to join the industry, it could be for the fame, or your love for acting, storytelling, direction, but be sure of your intention, because it is only your passion that will keep you going.

You have a difficult road ahead of you, even I sometimes think why am I not on the set, why am I not shooting, but in the end, if you know your intention, that will keep you going.

And most importantly, be true to yourself.

 

March-2017

 

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