Pratik Gandhi, Pankaj Tripathi, Jaideep Ahlawat and Rasika Dugal… fine actors catapulted to ‘streaming superstar’ status in the year that was and now set to build on the successes of their career-defining roles in a year that stretches ahead with possibilities and potential.
The coronavirus pandemic may have cost film goers the theatrical experience but the rise of streaming platforms put the spotlight on a host of actors who kept audiences invested in movies and long format shows. The rise of OTT has also enabled the entertainment industry to get democratised and break free of the traditional star system.
As Indians usher in 2021, hoping that a vaccine would mean the pandemic is over, it is clear normalcy is months away. And as far as the entertainment world is concerned, OTT is here to stay.
“OTT has opened up huge doors for all creative people, be it writers, actors, directors, technicians, everyone,” said Sayani Gupta, who stars in Amazon Prime Video’s popular shows Inside Edge and Four More Shots Please.
Creators don’t need a saleable name, just good actors who fit their roles in the streaming arena, she said.
It would be hard to imagine the success of shows such as Mirzapur, Criminal Justice, Panchayat, Paatal Lok, Aarya, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Four More Shots Please! and Bandish Bandits without the standout performance of its actors.
Streaming, it seems, has finally managed to free content from the two-hour window that theatrical releases required. No longer worried about the opening numbers, creators realise that crisp writing and strong performance are the sure shot way to keep viewers hooked on stories that stretch across multiple episodes and seasons.
This can only be good news for the many actors who found their calling on OTT platforms.
“You don’t need an opening on OTT or a weekend collection. What happens with movies is that even if the film is good, if it does not do well at the box office, people tag it a flop,” said Tripathi, the gentle father of Netflix’s Gunjan Saxena, the powerful mafia don of Mirzapur season 2 on Amazon Prime Video and the funny and smart lawyer of Disney Hotstar’s Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors.
Tripathi, who emerged as one of the industry’s most bankable artistes in cinema as well as shows, attributes this rise of artistes on streaming platforms to the freedom that the medium accords its actors and creators.
Writing and performances are the only criteria for the content on OTT to be judged and creators know that they cannot rely on gimmicks to tell their story, he said.
“There is a freedom that makers have because gimmicks don’t work here. What matters is your writing and your performance. And you have time to say what you want to say in six-eight hours whereas in cinema you have just two hours to justify the cast and hero.
“When writing becomes important, you need actors who can explore the layers and complexities of the story. It is easy to get attached to OTT but it is easier to be rejected because if the viewers don’t like they will switch to another show,” Tripathi added.
Ahlawat, Tripathi’s co-star in Wasseypur, was noticed in Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi. But it was not until his turn as Inspector Hathiram Chaudhuri in Pataal Lok that he really came into his own. The actor terms his role as a jaded ‘Jamuna paar’ cop trying to piece together an assassination attempt on a TV journalist, played by Neeraj Kabi, another streaming star, a career defining one.
“With the emergence of the third screen, actors have a golden opportunity to reach out to an untapped, wider audience – not only across the world but also deeper into smaller towns and cities in India.
“With unique stories and long-format content created for the digital streaming space, it is a great time for actors to explore unconventional roles and characters that appeal to the audience,” Ahlawat told PTI.
With show creator Sudip Sharma and producer Anushka Sharma enthusiastic about a second season, Ahlawat’s Hathiram could well return soon.
Mirzapur, another cult crime drama set in UP, has already announced its season three, paving the way for the return of Tripathi, Dugal, Ali Fazal and Shweta Tripathi. Dugal, who has become popular as Beena Tripathi in Mirzapur, also earned praise for her turn as Savita Mehra on Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy on Netflix.
According to actor-casting director Abhishek Banerjee, who played Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok, streaming services have led to real democracy in the industry.
“I have been saying this for five years that streaming is the best place for actors to experiment, evolve and reach the limelight. It is a big universe and if you are good and the show is well-made, it does not depend which platform it is on, people will talk about it,” he said.
“True essence of democracy is on the web because you are watching in your own house. You are not buying a ticket. You don’t need to watch something for more than 10 minutes if you don’t like it. It also frees up the creators because they can really do what they want without worrying about whether they will get the audience or not,” he said.
“Its reach is massive and also hugely democratic. I love that. With OTT, you just need a good actor who fits the role perfectly. You don”t need a ”saleable” name or a star for the show to do well. And you have examples of that all around you. Sometimes less known actors work much better for certain characteristics… like in the case of ‘Paatal Lok’. These are phenomenal actors who are getting their due,” Gupta added.
Pratik Gandhi, a star in Gujarati cinema, became the discovery of the year with his spell-binding performance as controversial stock broker Harshad Mehta in the Hansal Mehta-directed critically-acclaimed series on Sony LIV.
Life has completely changed for the actor, who is happy that his performance has made an impact.
“I am happy people are looking at my past work and appreciating my performance. But I have just been honest with my work, I am just the same as I was before (Scam 1992), except busy answering calls and doing interviews,” he told PTI in an interview recently.
In an interview with PTI in October, Aparna Purohit, head of India Originals at Amazon Prime Video, termed the rise of OTT platforms as a “renaissance of media and entertainment in India”.
“I think it’s a great time for the entire artistic community, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. I, in fact, call it a renaissance of media and entertainment in India where all kinds of stories are being told, all kinds of genres are being explored. It is a great opportunity for newer writers, actors and composers,” Purohit had said.
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