No rules, no reservations, interesting story lines, innovative themes; web series have gradually entered entertainment space and now, they are here to stay. Aimed at younger audience, and by consciously and unconsciously breaking the gender stereotypes with progressive storylines, they are gaining in popularity
The episode opens with a scene in the bedroom when a pretty looking girl and a handsome boy are getting ready to make love before the doorbell rings, and all hell breaks loose. The opening shot of Aparna Malladi directed web series ‘Posh Poris’ did create much furore – some even calling the cast and crew names and declaring that the series is against our ‘culture’; but the fun-filled screenplay struck a chord and it was views galore for the path-breaking Telugu web series from the word ‘Go’. Produced by Telugu One’s Himabindu Kantamaneni, the latest entrant into the online entertainment space, ‘Posh Poris’ has broken quite a few stereotypes as far as Telugu filmmaking goes and definitely the image of a traditional Telugu girl, mostly portrayed through our films and other entertainment media. Aparna Malladi, the director, shares, “Through the series we reveal those unknown aspects that only belong to women’s space; and this we did without betraying sisterhood. And in doing so, we captured the imagination of online viewers. We got on board Gautami Challagulla who has worked on the subject in university and it couldn’t have got better.”
The director knew what she wanted, she had a producer who understood and gave them enough freedom, and the casting director had clear instructions – to find glamourous Telugu girls, who could do their own dubbing – and she found Maya (Harika Vedula), Hyndavi (Sahaja Chowdary) and Sesh (Aditi Myakal). The actors were given specific characters and space to explore. And just because it a story of three girls, men were not left behind. The series has good looking men who can stand strong in their own right. And the ‘Posh Poris’ are everything that a gender stereotype is not – lazy, fun-loving, and independent; in short – girls who live by their rules. And since the series is suitably subtitled, it reached beyond the expected viewership much to the delight of the makers.
“It was not a randomly written script. Lot of thought went into it. We wanted the ideal combination of three women – a seductress, queen and mother – who will be talking to each other, but not necessarily about just women. Many Tollywood directors like Tammareddy Bharadwaj, Krishna Vamsi, Nandini Reddy called me and congratulated me for foraying into a space less travelled. Interestingly, it is not just women who watch our web series; we have men too as audience. We had grandmothers come up to us and remark on how they had been posh poris of their time.”
It was only since couple of years that we saw a steady stream of web series– limited episode short videos that are made exclusively for internet audience – a welcome alternative to the television series, especially catering to young viewers in their 20s to early 30s. While there have been quite a few Hindi/English Indian web series that have been striking a chord with the web viewers, local flavour too made its way slowly and steadily like ‘Muddapappu Aavakai’ that had Niharika Konidela, daughter of Tollywood producer Nagababu in the lead role and ‘Stages of Love’ by Rod Factory – but both sticking to the safe, sweet and cute love stories. The former especially is the much too common story where the modern independent girl is ready to give up jeans, and learn to cook chicken in order to impress her future mother-in-law and get married to the boy she loves for that happily ever after ending.
What sets ‘Posh Poris’ apart is its content – the story of three modern, independent girls living on their own, their conversations, travails, joys – and according to Aparna – “Here is the subject that is not explored until now in Telugu medium. The girls in my series know what they want, and do not apologise for what they are. And I believe that the detractors do not like this. It is not that I made the girls wear revealing clothes, or that they are smoking or drinking. And in the first episode (that got in addition to compliments, brickbats too) they do not have sex. They just eat ice-cream. And for people who are making an issue about culture – look at Tinder – Do you think all those members on the site are trying to find their marriage partners?”
Yet another web series of a kind that falls into this no boundaries category is ‘Mahathalli’ by Jahnavi Dasetty. A web series that initially began as ‘Mahathalli-Mahanubhavudu’, eventually gave way to the six-minute videos conceptualised and performed by Jahnavi that cover every subject that’s dear to the Gen Y – from parties, music, boyfriends, friends, to parent troubles, peer pressure – you name it – Jahnavi presents it with the help of fun and satire filled script. What strikes the viewer is the casual way in which the show breaks stereotypes and comments on taboos and societal malice like caste discrimination, gender bias among others. A NIFT graduate Jahnavi entered the world of short films in order to explore her love for creative medium and eventually with the help of Wirally Telugu, she found herself involved in ‘Mahathalli’. “I was inspired by the ‘Super Woman’ series and always wondered why we do not have such series in Telugu. In the beginning, it was easy to think of the subjects, but over the time, with increased expectations it is getting more and more difficult to keep up the pace,” she shares. Being from Kurnool, Jahnavi is quite fluent in Telugu, and the freedom internet gave her in expressing views too helped her. Above all, the series is made for an audience, who knows no boundaries, and holds no pre-conceived notions of how a girl should be dressed, and behave in order to cater to the cultural prejudices.
Here, we are speaking about a generation that loves independence, who know right from wrong, who are not in a hurry to join rat race, and are all set to discover their true passion; and, who are already in the midst of a chaotic world dealing with new challenges that among others include dealing with funny working hours and work related stress as much as it is to do with how to make their Snapchat video get the most number of likes, and find time to party.
The success of these web series and the dedicated viewership that includes both boys and girls – if nothing – indicates a definitive shift in thought process, especially amongst teens and youngsters.
While the Telugu digital content producers are slowly waking up to the concept, there have been many Hindi/English Indian web series being produced in similar lines that enjoy amazing popularity. Some of the path-breaking ones that look at women from a progressive point of view include the 2015’s Yash Raj Films production ‘Men’s World’. In addition to having guest appearances by the likes of Parineeti Chopra, Ayushmann Khurana, Kalki Koechlin, Richa Chadda, Soni Razdan, Pritish Nandy, Rhea Chakraborty, Bhumi Pednekar, Miss Malini – that only YRF could have managed – the series is about the hero, who one day wishes to be a woman as he feels that women get undue advantages in this world – and poof his wish comes true, and soon he realises how wrong he was. The production house followed it up with yet another interesting series ‘Sex Chat with Pappu and Papa’ – that demystifies sex education and even though Pappu is too young and cute – he asks all the right questions. And in the process, the series tries to break the taboos like girls cannot touch pickles during periods, etc.
Then there were others like ‘Permanent Roommates’, ‘Confessions – It’s Complicated’ and ‘Girl in the City’ that are about various things, but at their crux have women playing lead roles and discussing everything other than mother-in-laws and revenge strategies. The recent one that’s topping the charts with clicks and likes is Dice Media’s ‘Little Things’ – The story of a young couple (Dhruv and Kavya) who fight, argue, and agree to disagree over every day issues, but also take pleasure in going the extra mile for love. Here is a modern couple that respect each other, defy the traditionally accepted gender roles and share work including the much feminised home chore – cooking.
Very soon, Balaji Telefilms, the mother of Hindi soap operas will be launching its own line content through its digital division – and announced its first original series with Nimrat Kaur in the lead and directed by Nagesh Kukunoor. The series is about the first woman preparing to be inducted in a combat role in the Indian Army. “When we announced the launch of ALT Balaji, we promised to break stereotypes in storytelling; this series is a strong reinforcement of that commitment. The ALT wave has begun and we’re excited to kick start the announcement with this duo. While Nimrat is known for her unconventional choice of roles, Nagesh is known for his alternative style of filmmaking, both of which align with the core ethos of ALT Balaji,” says Ekta Kapoor.
And going by the trend and the major production houses eyeing the medium, it will not be long before the web series format will expand its reach with content that will address issues of women of all ages. Mean while one does hope that digital production companies continue to create sensible and responsible content that will keep the flag of creativity flying high.
First Published in The Hans India