ZEE5’s show The Final Call has been appreciated for its gripping narrative and stellar performances by Arjun Rampal, Javed Jaffrey, Sakshi Tanwar, Anupriya Goenka and Neeraj Kabi. Scriptwriter and author Priya Kumar moulded her novel I Will Go With You: The Flight of A Lifetime to make an appealing screenplay for the show. She feels it was “very brave of ZEE5 to believe in content which had a spiritual base to it”. But like every author, she too was apprehensive about the message of her book being lost in its screen adaptation.
In an email interaction with us, Priya told us The Final Call is the beginning of her career as a scriptwriter and the success of the web show has made her believe that content is king.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
What made you switch roles from an author and a motivational speaker to a scriptwriter?
Actually, all the roles are connected with each other. They are all an extension of one purpose – to add value to people’s lives while being on my way to enrich mine. And my job allows me the opportunity for both. I am a storyteller and that is the base of my career as a motivational speaker, author and screenwriter. To create and tell stories that inspire and nudge people on the path of reflection so as to improve their lives is literally my business. And each role compliments the other. So, I have not given up on one profession to make my space and impact in another. My jobs have helped me expand. So, for example, I have greater value as an author because I am also a motivational speaker, and I have greater value as a motivational speaker because I am also an author and screenwriter.
Suspense and spirituality were blended well in The Final Call. What was your vision behind it? Didn’t you feel getting into spirituality is a dangerous territory?
Yes, that is my forte – inspirational, spiritual thrillers. I feel a lot of good stories and concepts that are led by inspiration and spirituality are lost because they become heavy. So, introducing a compelling story filled with suspense is a good way to keep the audience going. It was very brave of ZEE5 to believe in the content which had a spiritual base to it. In today’s times, while the trend on OTT platforms is shock value in terms of sex, violence and unnecessary nudity, ZEE5 took a step and a stand with The Final Call. And it was very well received. My book I Will Go With You has been a great success and so I had no doubt about the success of the series. I feel it was necessary. And if my name goes on a project, expect inspiration and spiritual storytelling.
Why did you think of turning your novel I Will Go With You: The Flight of a Lifetime into a web series? Didn’t you fear its essence being lost in the screen adaptation or did you take cinematic liberty while converting your novel into a web show?
Actually, ZEE5 had expressed interest in taking up my novel I Will Go With You for the web series. I was quite surprised because it is an expensive plot as it involves computer graphics and the majority of the story takes place in an aircraft. But ZEE5 was very keen on it and especially for the spiritual message that the story holds. It is, I believe, one of the most expensive series that they have made till date. The shoot happened in London, Thailand, Andaman Islands, Kashmir, Delhi, Kochi, Chandigarh and Mumbai. And it also has an impressive star cast.
Of course, I was a little apprehensive about the adaptation and whether the message of the book would be lost. That’s a leap of faith every author needs to take to be able to trust that the writers and director will comply with the vision. And they did. I was lucky that the team was on the same page. In fact, most of the crew had read the book and they had even gifted the book to a lot of people. So that for me was a sign that even if some modifications are made in the plot, which actually were, it would all turn out fine.
Did you always want The Final Call to be a web series or you thought of it as a full-length film?
I think the web series was a greater advantage because two hours was too short to tell the story. So the extended episodes did full justice to the little nuances, the characters and the story. In a two-hour feature film, this would not have been possible at all.
As we watched The Final Call, we knew from the very first moment where the narrative is headed to. So, how did you manage to keep the storyline gripping despite the audience knowing the climax?
Well, even my book in its summary had the plot that the plane would crash. In fact, unless it is really a psychological thriller, we all know what is going to happen in the end. We know the protagonist is going to live on, the lovers will get together, the murderer will be caught, the ship will sink in Titanic, or the plane will crash or Freddie Mercury will die in Bohemian Rhapsody. We know the end, always. But how it all leads there is a curiosity that demands our indulgence. Why does the pilot crash the plane? What happened on that flight? Why did the astrologer take the flight if he knew that he was going to die? What happened to the passengers minutes before they died? It is this curiosity that pulls us in and therein was the message of the book.
Why did you plan on sketching every character of the show so elaborately?
Actually, that part the director did. My storytelling doesn’t delve too much into the past. I am more of a ‘move on’ kind of a person. But the director wanted to sketch out backstories in detail of every character, and that story is not something that I had covered in my original draft of the screenplay for the book.
How do you feel about the critical acclaim coming towards The Final Call?
This is the beginning of my career and I am here to stay. Although I have done my filmmaking course in direction and writing from the New York Film Academy, working on The Final Call was my PhD. I have learnt so much on set, on the writing, on the direction, production and editing. So, I am grateful for the opportunity.
Also, I learnt a very important factor, that when it comes to the final analysis of a book or a show or a film, the content is king. Everything else can be pardoned, overlooked and forgiven as long as your content touches the hearts of its audience and that is what happened with The Final Call. From the content to the characters, that part was widely acclaimed and for many of us who worked on the show, this proves to be the turning point in our careers.
According to you, what importance does a script hold (apart from the star power) in making a show or a film a hit?
Content is king. If your content is unique and fresh and if you can have a team that has the courage to stand up to it, then actors with or without star value are going to bring a hit. See, with the OTT platform, the world becomes your arena. And the star value then becomes subjective. Even in the domestic market, one star has lesser value in the north than in the south and vice versa and so on. So, a star doesn’t guarantee worldwide appeal, and hence there is a great chance for talent to come up and grab opportunities. There is a world of abundance out there. Every platform today is looking for unique and fresh storytelling and in the last 6 months, there have been more books that have been optioned for films and web series than have been in the past 20 years.
Now that you are a part of the digital world, do you think Indian web shows are exploiting the freedom that comes with the medium, like incorporating the abusive language and intimate scenes when they add no value to the plot?
Oh yes, and I am not a fan of it. The content such as this has isolated entertainment. Earlier what used to count for family viewing is now private viewing. So people are not only not going to cinema theaters, but they are also not consuming the content together as a family or a group. Because to watch content filled with profanity and explicit nudity is not public viewing material and hence it has taken the entertainment out of entertainment.
Therefore like I said earlier, ZEE5 took a very bold step in taking up my content which was totally a U-turn from what is being presented, and for that, I am grateful, even to the audiences for having appreciated it the way they did.