Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

The golden run of filmmaker duo Raj & DK and writer Suman Kumar with The Family Man, Farzi, and Guns & Gulaabs represents the zeitgeist of the pan-Indian cinema movement more than even most pan-Indian features. Hailing from Andhra Pradesh, Raj & DK teamed up with Suman, a Bangalorean now awaiting the release of his debut feature film in Tamil, to create The Family Man, headlined by the Bihar-born Delhiite Manoj Bajpayee. Because each season of the show deals with a political issue concerning a specific region of the country, actors from other film industries organically find their way into the cast; this, of course, is a breather from makers casting regional stars simply to pander to the ‘pan-India’ tag. The story flowing and connecting other parts of the country also makes it more attractive as a project, especially at a time when film industries other than Bollywood are yet to find faith in long-format storytelling on streaming platforms.

On Saturday, at the recently concluded 8th edition of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati, Assam, Krishna DK participated in a masterclass on the art of telling stories through the longer format and, along with Suman, in a discussion titled ‘Mastering the Evolving Landscape of Web Series’. With the upcoming third season of The Family Man moving the story to the region, the filmmaker will be travelling more and more to the Northeast, and he does sound excited. “We are now in development, and over the next few months, we will come here, interact with people, explore the culture and incorporate them back into our script,” says DK, in this conversation with us at the film festival.

Excerpts:

DK, how have you been liking the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival 2023?

I love the idea of this festival. I think it’s important for every region to have an event like this, in which filmmakers and other film industry people interact with the local talent and BVFF is providing that for the entire northeastern region of the country. It’s great because if not for such efforts, many creative minds here would have to travel to Delhi or Bombay to interact with anybody.

Krishna DK at the 8th edition of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, in Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio, Guwahati, Assam, on 16th December 2023
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

What stood out about the first two seasons of ‘The Family Man’ is the effort to flesh out both sides of an insurgency. With the story now moving to the Northeast, can we expect the same balance in writing?

The idea of The Family Man has always been to have a balanced approach to everything without necessarily taking sides. There’s a clear demarcation between a protagonist and an antagonist in our stories, but there is a nuanced approach to the subject, and in that, we try to be balanced to the best of our abilities.

As a format, web series has found popularity among Hindi-language creators. However, it hasn’t yet penetrated all other markets, especially down south. Why do you think this is the case?

I think it’s the function of the number of players. With feature films, there are equal opportunities at the box office in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and so on, and the sizes of the box office are huge, Hindi arguably being a little larger just by its popularity. With series, the OTT platforms enjoy a strong subscriber base in the Hindi market and they’re starting to expand to other languages down south. Once these platforms get a foothold in the southern states with a good subscriber base, we can see more creators trying the format.

I think it might be a matter of two to three years for the format to pick up, and we might see more high-profile filmmakers and actors start making series because a series with higher production value also attracts higher calibre.

You have now created a shared universe with ‘The Family Man’ and ‘Farzi’. So, now when you write a series, say ‘Guns & Gulaabs,’ do you wonder about the possibility of a character ending up with their own show, like say, Gulshan Devaiah’s Chaar Cut Atmaram?

The thought did occur to us when we were writing the show. As soon as we shared the script with Netflix, the immediate feedback was that if the show did well, there could be a Chaar Cut Atmaram spin-off. So though the thought was there, it all depends on how well the audiences receive it.

Krishna DK at the 8th edition of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, in Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio, Guwahati, Assam, on 16th December 2023

Krishna DK at the 8th edition of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, in Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio, Guwahati, Assam, on 16th December 2023
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

After Guns & Gulaabs was released, there were too many calls for that spin-off. So, the demand is there, and it turns out that this time our guess was right. Sometimes your guess can turn out differently; when we made The Family Man Season 2, until the weekend of the release, we had no idea that Chellam sir would become a sensation. We were as surprised as actor Uday Mahesh. I remember how he was shooting in remote southern Tamil Nadu when the show dropped, and over the weekend he realised that everybody was talking about him. He hadn’t watched the show so he called me to ask what was going on.

You are doing ‘Citadel: India’ now and we have been seeing many Indian creators take up global IPs, like ‘The Archies’ for instance. Are there any other such IPs that you see potential in adapting?

Nothing specific as of now. Of course, Citadelstarted as an overall multiverse, and it’s been quite a few years since Jennifer Salke, the Head of Amazon Studios, visited us and spoke about Citadel. We were already doing three series with Prime Video, and so we weren’t sure if we could take up another series. But she spoke about this multiverse of Citadel, with instalments from Italy, US, Mexico, India and so on, and that they wanted us to be a part of it; how could you say ‘no’ to that? In fact, the talks started even before the release of the first season of The Family Man. Then the pandemic slowed things down and we shot earlier this year. The American version dropped this year, ours should come next year. Of course, we are not adapting anything and it will be original content, as part of a global IP.

There have been talks about OTT platforms indulging in self-censorship, and as someone who has touched on some really sensitive topics on your shows, is this a real, prevalent practice that creators need to worry about?

From the beginning, there has been a certain amount of self-restraint, I would say, not self-censorship. Even when we were doing the first season of The Family Man, there were some ethical rules that platforms followed — like, not showing violence against children or strong sexual content. There were things studios were averse to begin with, and it all came from an ethical standpoint. They didn’t necessitate it but did mention these, and inherently we never thought of exploiting the medium in that sense; the only way we exploited the medium was by bringing actors all over the country.

However, lately, I do believe that the government and the platforms are working hand-in-hand to come up with a series of guidelines on being sensitive to some issues. And, also, if there are any complaints, we have to address them as well. A couple of years ago, they came up with a couple of guidelines that all the platforms are practising now. So, there’s a certain amount of restraint to prevent offensive content. But, again, I wouldn’t call it self-censorship.

ALSO READ: Raj & DK sign multi-year deal with Netflix

You have a long association with Prime Video, who have partnered with BVFF for a new initiative called Prime Pitch through which filmmakers can submit their pitches directly to the streaming giant…

Yes, and I was actually shocked to know that Prime Video has sent out a creative person to film festivals such as BVFF to listen to pitches. Usually, studios with production capabilities do these, and Prime Video doesn’t produce their shows — they find producers and creators to do it. So, it’s a great deal. I had a chat with the Prime Video representative, and their idea is that when they find a good story they want to make, they pair it up with creators or producers they want to work with who may not have a ready story available. For the people of this region, a major studio is coming here and listening to your pitches, whereas, a few years ago, you would have to go to Mumbai, find the right contacts, get the appointment, maybe get that meeting and then go do your pitch. So, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

So, what is your advice to a young filmmaker who wishes to pitch their script to a streamer?

There’s no substitute for originality and authenticity. Especially if you are coming from a less-explored region like the Northeast, you have a unique opportunity to tell a unique story that many others may not have told yet. So, the more authentic your setting and the more organic your story is, the better chances you have. Don’t try to please somebody else; first, try to do what comes naturally to you.

The interviewer was in Jyoti Chitrabon Film Studio, Guwahati, Assam, at the invitation of the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival

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