By Aditya Savnal. Posted on July 10, 2015
With shows like Qtiyapa, Barely Speaking and Chai Sutta Chronicles, TVF has revolutionized the concept of online entertainment in India. With content that connects with the predominantly youth audience online, they have created a brand recognition & pull that far surpasses everyone else in the space.
And they haven't been shy of stretching the boundaries when it comes to formats either. TVF made Permanent Roommates, one of the first ever Indian web series last year, whose 5 episodes garnered over 8 mn views in all. With the latest web series Pitchers, they have taken it a notch higher, spending upto Rs 50 lakhs per episode and releasing it exclusively on their new portal TVF Play, in what seems to be a larger play at creating something more than just a viral content factory.
We recently spoke with writer-director duo of Pitchers, Biswapati Sarkar & Amit Golani, on the shift from making non fiction to web series, lessons learnt from the making of Permanent Roommates, their writing process, their journey and much more.
Published below are excerpts from the interview.
From the audience perspective, it may seem a sudden shift. But when we started the TVF journey, the whole idea was to make good TV shows. We were pitching Qtiyapa and other shows to MTV earlier. But it got rejected. The gene of making TV shows was there from the start and we were always keen to do it. The shift was from making 10 minute videos to making stuff for 30 minutes, which is web series. We were already doing Chai Sutta Chronicles and other stuff. But then, Pitchers & Permanent Roommates came along and that was the real transition. We were always on the lookout for it. When Commonfloor came on board, things fell in place.
Even when we were creating spoofs, we approached it with a storyline. And there would be an angle to the entire storyline. We like to define characters and not one act sketches. This is why people remember our characters as it is not based solely on punchlines.
We were really scared about managing audience expectations. We are known for our comedy content. But this show had some emotional content too. The transition was the scary one. The one learning was content creators should not have any preconceived notions or should not undermine audiences tastes. Audiences would surely know what they are watching. And if they like it they will surely accept it.
We also realized that if an actor is perfectly cast, then on the sets, even they also collaborate and contribute a lot. Earlier it was a closed affair with mostly TVF actors acting in most of our gags and shows. But now with other actors also becoming a part of our shows, it has become a much more collaborative process. It’s fun and can add a lot of stuff. The budgets are not the important resource to create content. It is time. If you can take out your time and work on the show, you can really do wonders. We have been really lucky to work with brands that have allowed us complete creative freedom.
We try and write 2-3 episodes initially and then try and shoot them. A lot of improvisation also happens on the sets. Some day an actor brings something new, which is then added to the script and helps to make it better. We believe in giving ample time to writing. Because if a script is written hastily, then it won’t result in good content. We also improvise and write a lot of stuff on sets. The way Sumit (Vyas) improvised the character of Mikesh in pitchers, it wasn’t in the script. He improvised it on the set. The way he improvised it, became a rage and people loved it.
Improvisation also depends, a lot on the scenes that are written. For example, scenes that have a lot of banter can be easily improvised on the sets. But the scenes that have heavy and more serious content are the ones you wouldn’t want a lot of improvisations. Because in such scenes, the lines are doing their job.
The ambition was to make a show that ups the ante for this kind of shows. Our references were Entourage, which define the glamorous side of the showbiz. Of course startups don't have a glamorous side to show. But there is a certain amount of aspirational value to start ups and that is wanted to show. Because, the mainstream media story never treated story properly that deals with entrepreneurs or start ups. Getting into the nitty gritties was our idea.
In today's scenario, the major change has been brought by entrepreneurs and startups. Still no one told the story of Indian startups, which was strange. And we wanted to depict this glorification of entrepreneurs and startups.
Knowing the characters and the actors well helps while writing the dialogues and the characters. The harmony and rapport that exists between them also helps a lot. When we have a joke and it’s not working, we pause and then we try and improvise it. Things like these do not happen on most of the other sets. Even the new actors, who are there, are very happy with setup and the way we work. I guess that is what they haven’t seen before as they don’t get much freedom on other setups.The dedication which our team members work towards the content also helps us to do better and improvise.
In India, it’s in its early stage. But if you look at U.S, people have disconnected their cable connection. A lot of people have subscribed to Netflix and HBO Direct. It also makes sense, as why should people wait for the show to be aired at a particular time and day. They can watch the episodes as per their convenience. The experience of watching these shows as per their convenience is what working for these shows in a big, big way. Especially, In India’s case, this is working a lot more, because the people who belong to the age group of 18-25, do not watch TV.
We talk to a lot of college students, whose last memory of a TV show is Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai. Apart from this, there are news and sports channels which they watch.
We are looking at doing more shows and a lot more volume of work. These shows have been stepping stones for us. As a team, we are ready to not only make more shows. But we are also creators, who have stories to tell and are a looking for opportunities for the same. We want to tell progressive stories. Stories of our generation, which we can relate to. Because, we are not able to relate to most of the stories and the characters that are shown in our Hindi films especially.