Meet Nikkhil Advani and you’ll know why progressive content on digital plays an important role in the making of our country. The director-general opens up about how his entertainment company Emmay Entertainment is not a ‘Bollywood Camp’ and works out with talent to churn out content driven films, and how Indian filmmakers are taking the next step by making web-series.
Since you have jumped into making digital content too, do you think the content available on Indian digital platforms is progressive enough?
I definitely think digital content in India today is progressive. I mean I may not agree to a certain things as a viewer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have progressive content on the internet in India. Look at the Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor roast, they pushed those boundaries which you can’t push do when it comes to feature films or Indian television. Even the other stuff that TVF guys are doing, or couple of short films that Rasika Dugal has done, or this short film called School Bag I saw last night, it’s good! So progressive in other terms, like the way it is shot or the actors they shoot with, these actors would normally confine to standing three rows behind a big star or a side role but they are too good, so they are getting good roles to play in this space, not necessarily it should always be the content, nonetheless good content is churned out on the internet.
How do you think India is doing when it comes to comedy as digital content, you think India has an audience for comedy on the internet?
The pressure of being witty is tremendous on the internet. It is very difficult. For example, when Carrie Fisher died, I didn’t want to write ‘RIP Carrie Fisher, May the force be with you’ because thousand other people must have done that. So you have to think for twenty minutes and come up with ‘RIP Carrie Fisher, the force is dark tonight!’
So there is a lot of pressure, and if we break this pressure and enjoy it for what it is, then there is a very good stuff available on Indian digital platform. India will catch up, but I think in India the web is used as a platform for promotions. If my film is releasing, I won’t care for how long I wasn’t on the internet, but the next two months I’ll use it left, right and centre; try everything on the web. This doesn’t happen in the west. So many people don’t have Twitter handles, they believe that the less they are seen the more their mysticism attracts. They don’t want people coming into their rooms. Internet in India is also used as a catch up thing, if I haven’t watch something, I want to catch up with it online. I am not talking about House of Cards or other popular series people binge on. People catch up on the TV shows they missed out watching on TV, Hotstar today is a great web portal, but doesn’t have too much original content, most of it is catch-up!
Many Indian filmmakers are inclining towards making web-series, digital content, what do you have to say about this trend?
You have to be open to understand that cinema today is going through a massive change in the way people are viewing it. People will go and watch big spectacle films like Baahubali, Avengers, and Fast and Furious, because they don’t want to watch these films on the 21 inch screen at home. Or you go and watch a Neerja, or Pink, or MS Dhoni because a viewer feels that besides watching the film you will take something back home.
Mainstream filmmakers are taking the next step. As a production company we are agnostic to genres, we have made films like Katti Batti, Lucknow Central, and we are making Bazaar. We don’t belong to a camp or we are not a camp per say. We don’t work with one set of actors, we are working with all sorts of actors.
We also want to be agnostic in terms of format, we are making feature films, we did POW for Star, we want to work on the internet, like most filmmakers we are also in talks with Amazon and Netflix, but in this case, it is not a show on Netflix or Amazon, it is a show Vir and I are developing. We are making the show first and then decide on which platform we want to show it.
Why did you choose to make comedy as your first web-series project?
We want to make a show consisting of ten episodes, and we hope that it will run for three seasons as the story demands it to be that long. I don’t think we are laughing enough! The level of despair with the common man is high, so when he wants to let loose and find entertainment, he doesn’t want to think before being entertained. He wants the slapstick, he wants to be easily entertained. That’s where our culture of ‘nautanki’ comes from. These people go from village to village and perform comedy. Comedy is an important process in the society, it allows you to laugh! So whether you go and watch Vir Das perform, or go to a laugh factory and enjoy with a drink even after knowing that the comedian might take a jab at you, or you go to a village toad show, it is comedy.
Coming to the film you are making- Bazaar. Tell us about how it was to work with Saif Ali Khan, and how did you turn a Pataudi to a Gujarati businessman? Also, tell us a little about late actor Vinod Mehra’s son doing a debut with you.
I gave him the script, he read the script, Bazaar has a lot to do with Saif and how he has worked with Gaurav and the other two writers. We did exactly what we did with Akshay in Airlift. I asked Saif to take time out and sit with the writer, the director, this was also because me and Saif haven’t worked together, nor have Gaurav and Saif, so it was important to create the level of comfort. To answer your question, the first draft that I had read was very different from the draft that came after these sessions with Saif over a period of twenty days, and I was surprised with what they had achieved. They had collaborated, they understood what they needed him to do, he got into it, he started enjoying it and gave his suggestions.
Bazaar is a very good script, and the writer director combination is great and has transformed Saif the way he is in Bazar. Saif’s role has been inspired by the folklore surrounding the markets. His transformation from a Pataudi to Shakun Kothari meaning ‘dhando’ (business) is amazing, if I could give him Panparag, I would give it to him, because he is a proper Gujarati businessman in Bazaar. How was it working with Rohan Mehra? Well, I just worked with him in the initial days of selection, from the rushes that I have seen to now, he looks amazing! Bazaar deals with stock trade and financial market.