Early this year, 24-year-old Priya Sen happily got rid of her television set. It had become redundant, and only ever served the purpose of a table. She detested Indian soap operas, and couldn’t relate to the ‘youth-centric’ content in the form of MTV Roadies either. Plus, Sen had stumbled upon the world of web series, and TV no longer lured her.
“I had just started watching Permanent Roommates, a 2014 show by The Viral Fever (TVF) in March, and it was hilarious. There was no censoring of words and scenes; the content was relatable and the language was colloquial. It was like watching my own friends online,’ says Sen, who has since then been hooked to similar short web series.
With back-to-back short fiction series on YouTube in 2015 — from Vishwajoy Mukherjee’s Baked on midnight food delivery service to TVF Pitchers on start-ups and a wedding gone bad in ‘Bang Baaja Baaraat’ (BBB) by Y Films — the web-series formula arrived in India this year.
“Finally, Indian viewers are appreciating good scripts. Now, you can’t fool them with big sets and expensive cars,” says Sumeet Vyas, who wrote BBB, which stars Ali Fazal and newbie Angira Dhar. With each episode getting a million-plus hits, a second season is in the works and will release in 2016.
A generation that once upon a time watched Just Mohabbat and Hip Hip Hurray had found itself being misrepresented on TV with crass reality shows. But it all changed in the summer of 2015, with Baked, a stoner comedy about a bunch of boys from the University of Delhi (DU), and their midnight munchies’ service to earn some quick cash. Mukherjee’s mini-series resonated with many, and the over a million views only justify the adulation the show received on social media. “TVF and All India Bakchod (AIB) had already established sketch comedy online, and there was space for relatable fiction, too, because frankly, content on TV is rubbish,” says Mukherjee. That the internet is a censor-free zone is also one reason why many flock to it. A tale of four stoner DU kids will never make it to TV, but on the internet, it will score many views. “That space is unfiltered; it’s our escape,” says the 27-year-old, hinting at a second season of Baked in 2016.
For young actors too, TV and films are no longer the only way to make a mark or debut. Dhar says she only looked at the script, not the medium. “I don’t have a TV, I watch everything online. BBB is a blockbuster online, and the exposure is great. It’s the age of the internet, everyone’s hooked to it, even my parents,” says Dhar, who has been cast alongside veterans such as Rajit Kapoor and Shernaz Patel. Part of the industry for decades now, both Kapoor and Patel didn’t require much convincing. “They too were excited about this new medium, and wanted to be a part of this gen-next,” adds Vyas.
The belief that TV has the best reach is changing. With the internet reaching every nook and corner of India, the shows, too, are getting to the masses. For Ashish Patil, CEO of Y Films (subsidiary of Yash Raj Films), anyone with internet access is their target audience.
“In October, Y Films’ YouTube page had 18,000 dormant subscribers. After our two mini-series — Man’s World and BBB — we have 2,00,000 loyal subscribers with these two shows receiving 16-17 million views in the last 90 days,” says Patil, who also reveals that in 2016, Y Films will release new online content every six weeks.
That Y Films hasn’t compromised on the production quality is also why BBB is probably one of the best online series out of India in the fiction category this year. “We treated it with as much respect as a film,” adds Patil. It is with the exact same sentiment that TVF created Pitchers, a funny take on a few friends and their venture into a start-up. “The only way people will come back to a mini-series online is if the content is great, and if the production value is super. We had to make it feel like a film experience,” says Amit Golani, director of TVF Pitchers. A second season releases in 2016, with more scripts coming out of the TVF stable.