IFFI 2023: The web series is where content is king

Actor of 'Family Man' series Manoj Bajpayee says an OTT platform is a ‘director’s medium’ while cinema is ‘an actor’s medium’
The session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT.'
The session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT.'


Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Sacred Games, Mirzapur, Panchayat and so many other such web series, streamed on the Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms, bent almost all rules of a blockbuster movie but still succeeded in getting viewership in millions, season after season.

What makes audiences of these over-eight-hour flicks threaded together by episodes, binge on them like their very survival depended on them? Family Man actor Manoj Bajpayee, along with directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishan D K and producer Apoorva Bakshi, tried to answer this question and more in a vibrant session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT’.

The session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT.'
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When Bajpayee started exploring the medium, he felt it was choked with too many shows on “sex, violence and guns” and he wanted to steer clear of it. However, on being goaded by casting director Mukesh Chhabra he met directors of web series Family Man (Raj and Krisna), and within 20 minutes of his conversation with them, he gave his nod for being a part of the web flick. The Satya actor’s Family Man is a runaway success.

For Bakshi, who has always leaned towards independent cinema, as it allows greater creative allowances, web series on OTT are “large independent films” that tell longer stories, delving deeper into nuances of characters and situations. Also, each flick has its own distinct language and style and does not attempt to fit into any particular mould.

The session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT.'
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“(Web) series are truly large independent films, in my understanding,” said the producer of docuseries Hunt for Veerappan for Netflix.

Another distinguishing element that makes an OTT film engaging is that, unlike mainstream cinema, the responsibility of an OTT film is not heaped on the shoulder of the protagonist. There are several other characters who drive the story.

It also wanders through many plotlines, which in turn have sub-plots. All these elements of a web series keep the viewer in its grip. In this medium, content is truly the king. Everything else is secondary or subordinate.

Manoj Bajpayee sharing his viewpoint.
Manoj Bajpayee sharing his viewpoint.

“Overarchingly, the intention is to create compelling content,” she said. When Bakhsi browses through web series scripts, she looks for longevity and seasonal appeal to green light a project.

Bajpayee views OTT as a “director’s medium and cinema as an actor’s medium”. It took him some time to adapt to this new reality. His extensive preparation before the shot would fizzle out when his directors would convey to him their expectations from the scene.

“How quickly one adapts to the expectations of the creator (director) is what matters,” he told a rapt audience.

The session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT.'
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The legendary actor also found it difficult to follow the character graph of his character in Family Man. Narrating an anecdote, Bajpayee said that while shooting an episode for season two of Family Man, he shot a few scenes for it thinking the character was divorced; only to be told by his director later that the character was still not divorced.

“I had to really manipulate my performance around the changed graph of their character,” he quipped.

The session organised by IFFI on ‘Crafting Compelling Web Series for OTT.'
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It’s this dynamism in story narration in the OTT medium that Nidimoru and Krishan find appealing. “With OTT, we discovered we can do it very raw, very in-dept and fresh. This also helps actors to do it (scenes) very quickly,” says Krishnan.

Going forward, Bajpayee wants OTT to go back to mentoring independent cinema.

“OTT platforms started with mentoring independent cinema. That’s lost somewhere. Now, we see the blockbusters having a good time but the independent cinema, which started with the mentorship of OTT platforms are getting waylaid. This is a very sad development because in the absence of independent cinema the film industry will not grow. It will grow only in terms of money but not in other ways,” he lamented.

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