The web is far more democratic than movies – Shouvik
Interviewing Shouvik Gupta was interesting in many ways. He is the director of the new web series titled Ranjish that will be airing its first episode tomorrow i.e. the 26th of January, 2016. The show will be different from many others; a socio-political drama offering insight into the mind of the victimizing victim. A commentary on the way we think regarding the communal tension all around us, and the retaliation we all must keep in check. Here’s what Shouvik has to say about it.
Is the story idea for Ranjish yours? What motivated you to make a series on this topic?
Yes, it is. I had made a short film with a production house called HumaraMovie. The idea of making a web series came about post that. HumaraMovie and I are both of the same opinion that we don’t necessarily want to make something that is just viable but make something that is socially relevant.
I am also a bit more inclined towards serious drama. This was a story that I had written in 2009, a year after the 26/11 attack. And we have seen that whenever any such incident happens, like when 9/11 happened in the US, they bombed Afghanistan. So in a retaliation like that, only innocent people die. While retaliation is important how we should go ahead with retaliation is the point.
So this was an idea on revenge. When I narrated this story to HumaraMovie, they really liked it. I had to contemporise it a bit, because 2009 was long ago, and so I changed a few things here and there. And we went ahead with it.
How did you go about developing this idea? What kind of research have you put into writing the script and understanding the mind frame of people in both spaces of characterization?
I did not do a lot of direct research. It is eventually about one common man’s reaction. I have spoken to a lot of people regarding their reactions specially with regards to what you read in newspapers everywhere. And the kind of reactions I get sometimes are very frightening. Even when the Paris attack happened the reaction was to bomb Syria. How is bombing a country going to kill ISIS? Of course that is a very big event. But how to deal with retaliation is what the movie has to say.
I had written it as a film script, when someone who was planning to make a small budget film wanted me to develop this particular story. That was in 2011, but it somehow did not work out. Of course this time round I had to modify it a bit, but then I had the basic structure in place.
Do we expect animosity from the series? Or will the storyline surprise us?
It has both elements – there is animosity and I think that the type of animosity is surprising. Ranjish as a name means ‘anguish’ – how bad can we get? How the worst of us comes out? There is going to be animosity but at the end of it I only hope that people realize the message of the film – that intolerance of any kind is not going to get us anywhere.
What is going to set your story apart from the rest of the media coverage on such a topic?
We have seen similar storylines in a couple of movies like New York or Kurbaan, but they were from a different perspective all together. They are from the perspective of people who were wrongly branded as terrorists and become terrorists as a result.
This story is from the other perspective, where someone has faced terrorism and how he retaliates against people who he believes are terrorists.
How has the experience of working on a web series been? What kind of challenges did you have to face?
The major challenges were logistics, money and resources, because ours was not that grand a production. We mostly see lighthearted content on the web and sometimes, for lighthearted content the humor itself is enough. So one doesn’t need very good production value. But for a serious drama if the value of production is not great then it can look very artificial. So we had to maintain that production value, we had to make it look good. And to maintain that look, we were constantly running short of money. So that was a bigger challenge.
The other thing was that this was the first web series experience for both HumaraMovie and me. They had also not done such a series before.And I have only done short films before this, and short films are a very different ball game. This was a massive learning experience. It was also very professional. I think this was the first time that I have done a full fledged professional color correction. So the level at which things happened is great.
Do you think we need to have popular faces in a web series?
For web I don’t think so. My favorite web series till now has been ‘TVF Pitchers’, and I loved it and I knew none of them. I may have seen them here and there, but I did not watch the show because they were known faces. I loved the character called ‘Mandal’ played by Abhay Mahajan, and I had no clue who Abhay Mahajan was till I saw the show. So I think the web is far more democratic than movies in that sense. People come here for the content and not for the faces; also because it is in the very initial stage. Maybe as time progresses, a certain kind of stardom will also come to web series. But it is not so now.
With media giants like YRF (Y-Films) also developing web content do you feel at a disadvantage in this space? What is your general opinion over the content on the web?
I mean yes, honestly there is a competitive disadvantage on the web. I mean YRF has a huge follower base. The term ‘Yashraj’ gains a lot of attention. And I think the only other player in the similar zone is TVF. But I am not competing with Y-Films or TVF; that is not really happening. What can only work in my favor is that right now there is no YRF or TVF series coming out.
The other factor that should help Ranjish is that it is the first time that we are seeing something that is very socio-politically relevant. I know it is a sensitive topic and people don’t really want to talk about these things. But I believe that people from the city are mature enough to have a discussion. Hopefully that works for us.
What are the pros and cons for making content for the web?
The biggest advantage is that this is a platform for a lot of people who have fresh eyes and may not have enough resources or money to make a film for theater. The second advantage would be the reach of the Internet. On the web a viewership of 1 million for great content is enough to have a discussion.
The cons would have to be money. A lot of people are not sure. Having sponsors definitely helps. But a project like Ranjish does not have mass appeal. Brands do feel shy to be associated with something that is talking about communal tension.