“In OTT, the writing is the hero and heroine,” said actor and producer Radhika Sarathkumar, speaking at a panel that discussed diversity in OTT and regional content on the concluding day of FICCI Frames in Mumbai.
Moderated by film critic Baradwaj Rangan, the panellists included ZEE5’s Siju Prabhakaran, director and screenwriter Indranil Roychowdhury and director Muthu Kumar.
Asked whether female-centric shows that have been appreciated in recent times offered a winning format of content, she said, “The world has changed. In the last 10 or 15 years, so much has changed be it the Internet, technology or women’s empowerment that we talk about. It’s not necessary that the content has to be women-centric. OTT is about loving the writing and enjoying the writing. We (South content creators) have the stories. Why does regional content work? Because it was rooted. It is how you tell the story, how you engage. The consumer wants so much more. We have to keep our content very strong and the centre of it is writing.”
When everyone was making thriller genre shows, ZEE5 went with gut because of the story and backed Ayali, an original story, revealed Prabhakaran. While 75 to 80 pc of the platform’s paying customers were male, 55 pc of those who watched Ayali were female, he added.
“Shows that have worked really well for us have been the ones with hungry young talent,” he observed.
One such example was Ayali, whose director was fellow panellist Muthu Kumar.
“My story was one that had to breathe. The theatre time of 2 hours would not have done justice. The first thing that came to mind about taking the story to OTT was that I can tell the story in a longer format,” said the director.
It took six months to write the script, he noted.
Sarathkumar made the case for projects that are in the works to be backed fully once commissioned, a point Prabhakaran concurred with.
He said, “From development to the show going live, it takes 18 to 24 months. Platforms are also figuring out what will work, learning from failures and at the same time wanting to do something new. OTT is definitely opening up new avenues. I completely agree with Radhika that once you are committed to a subject, you have to see it through.”
Roychowdhury underlined that a regional creator should stop thinking about his or her language market alone with language barriers being broken. He also emphasised how OTT has opened doors for fresh thinking and approaches, adding that this was just the beginning.
“Regional content lines are getting blurred. There is no point in thinking I am making a Bengali film anymore. It is a huge opportunity. And the more unique I am, the better my chances,” he stated.
Muthu Kumar added to that and said, “We came here to do what we can’t do in the theatres. Like they say when you go more ethnic, you go more international. OTT allows you to go global instantly. Like Indranil said, OTT has actually changed consumer preferences in cinema. People are not willing to watch certain genres of cinema anymore.”
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