We are a country that eats, sleeps and breathes cinema, which also manages to unite people beyond the barrier of language. The past two years have changed the way we watched films and also the kind of movies we were used to watching. It created more opportunities for filmmakers, actors and producers and brought the spotlight on women. While we are itching to get back to the theatres, OTT seems to be an inseparable part of our cinematic experience. So, as we slowly put the pandemic behind us what do the people who brought films to our smartphones and television screens feel? We catch up with Pratiksha Rao of Netflix.
Rao has always worked at the intersection of storytelling and digital media. She believes that the digital medium allows you to reach a wide audience and allows for a lot of wide and diverse storytelling. Rao is the Director, Films and Licensing at Netflix India.
Taking about the Indian media industry and how it has changed over the years she said, “I think the film industry in India and specifically the Hindi film industry has a fair share of female producers as well. And I’ve always kind of seen the opportunity to bring in the female perspective. There are certainly challenges and I have to say they exist across the industries.”
Is cinema dependent on screen?
The acceptance of digital media across the world, as a democratic platform and the desire to bring diverse storytelling, more female-forward stories has been a thrilling experience for Rao. And seeing the audience respond to that in such a positive way is a reaffirmation of the fact that people do want to enjoy female-focussed stories, especially those told by women themselves. So, as we move out of the pandemic will we continue to see films being made for the small screen?
Rao thinks cinema is agnostic of the screen. She says, “You know, even before OTT platforms came in, a lot of our cinema was consumed on television. The TV premiers of the biggest films used to be an event in most households in India and it still is. So, OTT screens just end up being another extension, a medium to tell your stories, it allows you to reach a much wider audience in different ways. You can watch, a movie or a show with your entire family, stream it on your TV, can watch something on the go when you are driving to work, or when you are in a metro on your phone so the ways of reaching your audience, we have more options for that. But the narrative or the core of filmmaking doesn’t change.” She adds, “It gives filmmaker’s a lot more ways to reach their audience.”
So as audiences we are not as “star” struck as we used to be?
Rao feels every story will have a protagonist. Whether that protagonist is a male hero or a female hero is a different thing. She says, “Traditionally in the film business, that’s kind of become a determinant factor for sometimes mounting off projects, evaluating risk because there is a significant commercial risk that comes with it. But with OTT we don’t have the limitation of the 52 weeks, we don’t have the limitation of the duration of the format of our storytelling. Whether we do it in an episodic way or whether we do this in a 90 mins film or a three-hour film.”
This allows them to have a very diverse slate and put together projects which are backing emerging stars, emerging talent whether they are male or female, at the same time, also having projects where there are some loved stars, heroes or heroines.”
She believes the success of the storytelling doesn’t depend on the star power of the leading actor, it always depends on the story and theatrically also we are seeing this being acknowledged.
Suggested Reading: Has The World of Streaming made the ‘Khans’ Irrelevant?
Changing role of women behind the camera
Female producers, writers, directors, technicians are bringing in such rich, diverse experience in the filmmaking process. Rao believes, “It’s not just that women can only tell female-forward stories, just like male creators can tell stories about men and women. Similarly, female creators can do that too.”
Happy Ending Vs Food For Thought?
Is our idea of a “and they lived happily ever after” changing? Rao thinks, “Earlier perhaps there used to be a mindset that every story must end happily because a lot of cinema released in India used to be a means of escape. And what we see today is that people of course live that escape, there are moments when you just want to disconnect from reality. You want to just lean back and enjoy something easy but what you are also seeking is connection and that connection sometimes comes with seeing your reality reflected on the screen which doesn’t always and in a happy way. We want to be left with thoughts that stay with us much longer and we want that connection and so there’s also space for that kind of storytelling. There is space for both”
You can watch the video here.