- Innovative: The low-budget nature of mockumentaries demands more innovation and improvisation from their creators.
- Brief: Most of the series have an average running time of 20-25 minutes per episode and wrap up in 10 to 15 episodes.
- Effective?: YouTube ratings show the huge popularity of mockumentaries, but their market value is yet to be tested.
When Not Fit, the web-based mockumentary series, aired last October, the man behind it, Sudev Nair, never thought he would be starting a new trend. “My struggle to look for work as an actor made me realise there was too much mediocrity surrounding me,” says Nair. So he thought he would make a mockumentary about the travails of a struggling actor with real situations but exaggerated for comic effect. “This is a new format for the Indian viewers. One sees the classic portrayal of breaking of the fourth wall by characters in mockumentaries,” says Ashwin Suresh, producer of the Not Fit series.
Pan now to the Better Life Foundation (BLF) series, which revolves around the functioning of a fictitious NGO in Mumbai by the same name. It was created by a comedy collective called ‘Them Boxer Shots’—a YouTube channel started by four city-based artistes. The storyline, full of dry humour and madcap situations, is about the adventures of Neil Menon (Naveen Richard) and Jerry Pinto (Utsav Chakraborty). Where Neil, the ‘loser’, tries to throw positive energy in the workspace, Jerry, the ‘rebel’, tries to fight the system with his eccentric and anarchic ways.
The series takes us through various stages of the NGO experience, right from setting it up, to designing the logo, to fund collection and eventually being blacklisted for tax evasion. Season one of BLF features five episodes, each packed with deadpan humour and hilarious situations, which are as close to reality as possible, and therefore the moniker mockumentary. “This genre of comedy is non-formulaic and absurd, with acts which are very close to real life. My character was written keeping me in mind, and it was interesting to be playing me,” says comedian Kanan Gill who has featured in BLF.
Baba Sehgal reinvented
“The idea of playing around with an NGO seemed alluring to me. The aim was to take up a mundane situation and depict it in an interesting fashion. The focus was not so much on social issues but on delivering good comical content for entertainment,” says Richard, also the scriptwriter for the BLF series.
The mockumentaries trend seems to have caught on. And it’s not just the young who have cashed in. The resurrected rapper Baba Sehgal is coming up with ‘Soadies’, a spoof on the reality show Roadies. He plays ‘Ballu Soadie’, a version of the tough taskmaster Raghu Ram from the original show. In the spoof, Sehgal prays in front of a Raghu-Rajeev poster and hires a roadie ‘tutor’, as he and his partner Santa Soadie (Anju Mahendru) desperately try to push at least one member of their family to become a Roadie. Sehgal, who believes the internet is the largest platform today to showcase one’s talent, says, “My parents always wanted me to be a Roadie. I was also going to be the first judge of this reality show, however, that did not take off well.”
Bollywood badman Gulshan Grover too makes a comeback through, well, Badman, a show about a fading star trying to get a role in a film. The four episodes of Badman have so far seen Grover do his dialoguebaazi and his classic gesticulations. The series has cameos by other industrywallahs such as Rishi Kapoor and Farah Khan.
The mockumentary, an essentially low-budget affair, employs many fresh techniques. Unlike traditional acting that teaches the actor to be oblivious of the camera, here, the real challenge lies in being more camera-conscious. Also, a major part of the script depends on improvisation and experimentation. Mostly aimed at a young urban Indian audience, they try to deliver content relevant to India as there is too much international stuff available on web.
It is yet to be seen if these shows have staying power—most of them wrap up in ten to 15 episodes. And so far, they have been running on creative enthusiasm and friendly help from established actors. So, the business model is yet to be tested and nobody is sure if these mockumentaries can get enough eyeballs to attract advertisers and serious funding.