Thamizh Talkies: The dawn of a new era in filmmaking
The author talks about the increasing opportunities for showcasing your talent in streaming services like Netflix and Amazon
Sacred Games has set a new benchmark -- not just in terms of production values, publicity, and content, but also when it comes to mainstream filmmakers directing content that can be watched in the palm of our hand. I specifically recall the time when Sun Network had launched in 1991 and important filmmakers like K Balachander and Balu Mahendra, and Mani Ratnam (who wrote for TV but didn’t direct like his predecessors) quickly adapted their scripting style and production scale to suit the smaller screen. But soon enough, mega serials took over and heroines became heroes of entertainment on television, so much so that it became a trend to look at TV only when a director or actor went out of work in cinema or when they crossed their 'golden era' on the big screen.
Those were the beginnings. Now, entertainment has assumed larger proportions (and smaller screens). YouTube and Facebook platforms have become go-to mediums for watching teasers and trailers, and even re-runs of TV shows. Every TV channel has its own app today, which streams endless hours of content. It's an emerging clutter whose noise gets broken by good content.
Good content, of course, comes from good writers, good directors, and good talent. The South is yet to warm up to producing and directing content for streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. A mainstream commercial filmmaker is yet to step into this arena and create a pathbreaking film. The word film is italicised here because for the digital medium, storytelling in the format of films as we know it is yet to make an impact here. And I wonder why.
As my production house veers towards producing content for digital platforms as well, we have had the pleasure of interacting with filmmakers almost on an everyday basis in our quest for good stories. I observe that only two categories of filmmakers want to venture into the digital platform:
a) The truly successful and experienced directorship
b) Rank newcomers
There are filmmakers who fall in between the aforementioned categories, with some keen to explore the new wave. But most of these directors wish to take a plunge into digital platform slowly, and I can sense a natural hesitation from most of them to immediately say yes to a project for the digital platform, as their time at hand is taken up by the lure of the bigger screen. Making films with a matinee idol or a current heartthrob of a hero/heroine is still seen as a superior alternative. The splash of ads in newspapers and TV interviews and trailers trending on social media is still seen as the bigger high. Whether you’re making films for the smartphone, television or the big screen, what should matter most is what you have to say.
An auto ride on the rainy roads of Mumbai will show you which content’s hoardings grace the city's skyline. Is it just Sanju or is it also Sacred Games? As much as Sanju boasts of a multi-crore collection within a specific number of days, Netflix has seen a surge of subscribers within three days of release because of Sacred Games. It must be noted that Anurag Kashyap managed to direct one film for the Lust Stories anthology and the Sacred Games episodes while filming for two theatrical releases (Mukkabazz and Manmarziyaan) in the same year. The news and views of Sacred Games or for that matter any original series which a digital platform comes up with, is now given as much publicity and marketing push as any mainstream movie (remember the Madhavan-starrer Breathe on Amazon?)
Talk to any of the key executives in a digital platform and they will tell you that the only thing they look for is a good story. What is the story you want to tell? What is the journey of the characters in the plot? Where do we start the narrative and how do we see the story engage with the viewer’s attention?
If the South industry answers those questions the world out there is our audience. We then no longer need to pander our films to any one or all three of the A, B and C centres. People who don’t understand our language can still watch our content with subtitles and in an instant, we create a market for our forthcoming films/series outside of our region. Film festivals will not become the sole place where exchange of content and talent takes place. A person, in say, China would have seen our story set in Madurai and smiled and cried along, with our heroes and heroines! Cinema in the conventional manner can also be made for Direct to Home (DTH) releases via the digital mediums.
Someone wiser wanted to do this five years ago. While the sequel to his first part awaits release on August 10, he wanted to release the first film to a wider audience via the DTH platform. The film: Vishwaroopam. The man: Kamal Haasan.