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I am quite astonished to see the phenomenal reach of web series. I receive calls and messages from places as widely apart as Scotland, Israel and Morocco, to say the least, within 24 hours of any of my series streaming online. The web audience is an enlightened lot. If they like your performance, they will somehow reach you through Twitter, Facebook or other social media handles.
But they can be extremely brutal. If they don’t like the first two episodes, they will immediately switch over to something else. They don’t have the dearth of options on their cell phones these days. If you don’t engage them, they will quickly disconnect. That is why this medium needs actors more than stars who could deliver the content. Marketing gimmicks will not work in this space.
The advent of web series had made my life so busy that I have not been able to take a break in the past year. In this period, I have worked on the second season of all my three series: Sacred Games, Mirzapur and Criminal Justice. They made me so popular that my memes have flooded the internet. A senior IAS officer once complimented me on my performance in Mirzapur and on the same day, a paan shopkeeper from Jaunpur rang up with his wishes. It made me wonder about the penetration of web series into diverse sections of society.
“Web series is an effective medium to tell what is difficult to tell in a feature film. The borders are quite open here.”
It has heralded a better time for actors, writers, and those associated with film-making. It is difficult to find an unemployed good actor these days in Mumbai because all of them seem to be doing one web series or the other. Here, I am not talking about the stars, but about those actors who have come from a small town or a drama school. There are immense opportunities for all of them. After all, you need a lot of actors for a nine-hour drama with subplots that require multiple characters. They cannot make a long series with only four characters. The sole precondition is that you have to be good at your craft.
As for a relatively experienced actor like me, it gives us opportunities to go into the detailing and explore our characters in depth, which is not possible in cinema. It is akin to swimming in the deep sea. It is, of course, difficult for an actor working in a web series in the sense that you have to work for a longer period. But it provides enough time to work on the layering of your characters, your writing, etc. Like a feature film, you don’t have the limitation to restrict your story-telling to only two hours.
However, it is important to have universal emotions in web series content. And I think authentic content is invariably global. A viewer in the US may not understand the culture of India, as depicted in a web series, but it will open up a whole new world to him.
Merely sex and violence will not sell a show. No responsible film maker would like to make a series merely on that. If your content is not solid, it will never pass muster with the viewers. I, for one, desist from doing a scene that I find unnecessary. All through the ten episodes of Criminal Justice, I used only one abusive word. For a responsible film maker, web series is an effective medium to tell what is otherwise difficult to tell in a feature film. The borders are quite open here.
The future belongs to web series, but it will never eclipse cinema, which will continue to have a distinct identity, thanks to its unique feature of community viewing. You can watch a web series in absolute privacy as per your convenience, but watching a movie surrounded by 300-odd unknown people in a dark auditorium has its own thrill, which cannot be substituted by any other medium.
—As told to Giridhar Jha
A national award-winning actor, Tripathi has done web series for several OTT platforms