Director Nicholas Kharkongor (extreme left) with Imtiaz Ali (third from left) and Sobhita Dhulipala (fourth from left) along with others at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival
Director Nicholas Kharkongor (extreme left) with Imtiaz Ali (third from left) and Sobhita Dhulipala (fourth from left) along with others at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival | ThePrint | Revathi Krishnan
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Guwahati: “OTT as a platform is not specific to stardom and is a more democratic platform compared to cinema for sure, however like all mediums there is an entry fee for this medium as well,” Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali said at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati.

Joining him in a panel discussion on whether OTT platforms (over-the-top streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, Hotstar etc) are the future was actor Sobhita Dhulipala. She has acted in big-screen movies such as Raman Raghav and Kaalakandi, but actually gained fame for her role in Amazon Prime Video’s web series Made in Heaven.

An online survey has revealed that many millennials are switching to the digital medium not just for entertainment but for news consumption as well. Ali, though, is not one to take these surveys too seriously.

“No art form kills another. I believe all of them can co-exist. Many thought cinema would take over theatre, but there is still a very vibrant theatre scene. And the same goes for television,” he said at the festival.

OTTs more democratic

In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, the director said, “Stories should decide which platform the material should go on. Each medium tells stories in a different manner, however, OTT media allows more time to flesh out characters.”

Ali added that because of their equitable nature, OTT platforms give actors across the board a chance. Typically, OTT shows feature an ensemble cast and not focused solely on one person, providing a wider range of talent.

“The shows that have done well on OTT platforms are not only those of popular well-established actors and directors. Therefore, it depends on not what you have done before but what you are doing in that show, which is what makes it more democratic,” he said.

Dhulipala seconded this, saying, “A show format allows me the time and space to show the arc of a character and most of all, for silences in conversations. Silences speak a lot louder than words. That is what I truly love about a show.”

‘Don’t want to be stereotyped as an OTT actor’

While she is enjoying a lot of success in this medium with Made in Heaven, the newly-released Bard of Blood and soon to come Ghost Stories, Dhulipala does admit that she fears being branded an “OTT actor”.

“People, to an extent, are like — in the digital medium she has done well so let’s do more of her in this zone because the digital audience has consumed her, accepted her and liked her. I really hope that is not the case because a story is a story,” she said.

Her primary job as an actor, she added, is to emote and bring those very emotions to life in her character. And she sees no reason why this should change across mediums. The problem lies in a certain “fixed mindset”.

“Our idea of entertainment is limited to mainly song, dance and heroism. It is unfortunate that only some elements of popular culture are received with as much anticipation. I do wish people were more open to watching something purely because it is an interesting or good story. I hope that changes. Entertainment can also be something that leaves you with thoughts that stimulate you,” she said.

Also read: Laila Majnu packs every Bollywood cliché: Stalker men, apolitical Kashmir & crying women

Big screen has its magic but OTTs can’t be ignored

Ali admits that he is conventional — for him the best experience is to watch a movie in a theatre. Primarily because it is so exclusive — lights and phones are off and people have a large-screen, full-on experience.

“I see myself as a film director. The short film which I directed, The Other Way, I experimented with because I knew I couldn’t do it in cinema and did it as a one-off. Even before that, I made a short film in Kashmir and one on the Rajdhani Express. I made these because I really wanted to and mainly because I knew that what I did in those, I couldn’t do it in movies,” he said.

Still, the director is very excited by the OTT medium and does plan to engage with it in a more professional manner. His production company, Window Seat Films, has already produced one digital series and is working on other projects as well. And Dhulipala will soon start shooting for the second season of Made in Heaven.

Also read: I hope my film’s Netflix release makes Pakistanis see Abdus Salam beyond his Ahmadi faith

Revathi Krishnan was a guest at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati from 26-29 September.

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