The rise of content networks or OTT platforms has been a big boost for diverse and versatile acting talent. At the SheThePeople Screen Fest, we spoke to Actor-Director Renuka Shahane and actor Maanvi Gagroo about the change in storytelling on small screens.
Renuka Shahane is an actor who is best known for hosting the Doordarshan TV show Surabhi. She has also acted in movies like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, Masoom and 3 Storeys. Some of her popular soap operas include Imtihaan and Sailaab. Shahane made her debut as a director with Tribhanga, a story that revolves around three generations of women.
Maanvi Gagroo is an actor known to have worked in the web series Pitchers, Tripling and Four More Shots Please. She was also seen in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan and the Zee 5 Original film 377 Ab Normal.
Gender Spotlight Beyond the Mainstream
Renuka Shahane says that OTT hasn’t put itself in a box. People would go for projects that they want on their platform that are different from what we see or would like to see in the mainstream. She illustrates that there are certain similarities in certain aspects by giving an example. “The OTT platforms are very firm about gender equality. They want to present a very gender equal space. One thing they put out might look slightly similar to the next thing put out. But I don’t think we have come to that point where we feel that it’s really very typical,” she says.
“OTT is where we are experimenting right now in terms of stories, casting, topics we are touching upon because it is still a young platform. We still haven’t been boxed into anything yet. Everybody is trying different things now and different things are working also,” says Gagroo. She adds that the types of movies which are now releasing in theatres and OTT respectively are different. Superhero films like Marvel did well in the theatres but a film like Roma succeeded because it released on an OTT platform.
Theatres to Phone Screens, A Place for Everyone
With the growth of the streaming platforms and the pandemic forcing us to stay indoors, the theatres have run a loss. Is there a possibility of theatres becoming redundant soon? Renuka Shahane says that theatres can’t be made redundant because we would like to see certain things only on big screens. Moreover, during the pandemic people have missed the opportunity to go to theatres. She believes that both OTT and theatres can co-exist very well.
“There is certainly a very very strong divide in the kind of things that one likes watching on the big screen and what one likes to watch on the smaller screen, perhaps. So I think they can co-exist very beautifully,” she adds.
Maanvi Gagroo believes that certain kinds of films will always have an audience in the theatre and other types of films can be enjoyed in a better fashion on OTT. She says that one enjoys ‘Bollywood Masala films’ or Superhero films on the big screen. Gagroo further says, “But of course, because of the pandemic, the audience has shifted to OTT platforms from the small screen or from movies. The theatres suffered during the pandemic but the OTT cannot replace movies entirely.”
A Mirror to Reality
The online streaming platforms might often come up with content that consists of grotesque violence or is sexually explicit. The audience might perceive it as ‘obscene’. However, both the actors believe that what is shown is just a representation of reality. Renuka Shahane says, “I think it is an integral part of what is going on. If you pick up the paper, you will find things worse than what we can put in the fictional space. Our reality is harsher than fiction.”
Maanvi Gagroo is of the opinion that there must be room for all kinds of stories and let the audience decide what they want to consume. “When it’s intentional, it’s visible and nobody likes it but when it’s organic, we don’t mind it. We have digested things like misogyny and regressive content in the past. Nobody said anything back then. We have to have room for all sorts of stories- good, bad, ugly, action, drama, sexual, coming of age etc and let the audience choose.”
Stereotypes on OTT platforms
In an earlier interview with SheThePeople, Gagroo said, “Cast actors and not faces”, referring to the stereotypes usually practiced in mainstream cinema. In her opinion, OTT platforms are better than films in this case. But she also draws our attention to the fact that all of us come from the same pool of the society. “We are all learning and getting better. Some of us are learning at a better rate, some of us are slower. I feel certain things have changed. Conversations around gender and gender equality and parity have come in because these are contemporary conversations,” she says.
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