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OTT creators and producers, up close and personal at Vidnet Masterclasses 2019

The Masterclass was an eye-opening learning experience.

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Delhi Crime, Kota Factory, Criminal Justice, TVF Bachelors, Permanent Roommates, Ghoul, Bard of Blood, Sacred Games, Verdict, Little Things, Thinkstan and Mirzapur are just some of the shows that we all watch, love and are inspired by in the last few years that are the content of this, ‘New Wave’ of Indian original shows on OTT platforms Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, AltBalaji, YouTube and others.

If you too want to be a writer, creator or director with his idea and vision seen as a reality on any of these platforms then read on.

On a grey Mumbai morning on 4 October 2019, I got a chance to meet all these brilliant minds behind all these path-breaking shows and ask them questions and learn from them the creator's first-hand knowledge of how these shows were conceived, written and created for all of us to view.

If you were not present in these two esteemed rooms where all these discussions took place, here is a brief summary from memory, dear reader of what I learned from these Masterclasses.

I begin with the man about whom I had heard vaguely from people in the industry. A man who from his corporate boardroom job had made the transition and written this hard-hitting gangster Saga that is as good as anything from Hollywood and a truly Original Indian masterpiece on Amazon Prime produced by India’s premiere production house Excel Entertainment.

Puneet Krishna, the creator of the Epic gangster saga ‘Mirzapur’ got it made on the strength of his concept and what on paper is a mind-boggling 195 speaking characters in one show.

The biggest learning from Puneet who answered everyone’s questions with such humility was, “I do not have a writers’ room, my writers’ room is my bedroom where my brother and I conceived and wrote this show that is Mirzapur.” Puneet wrote the basic outline for the entire show in four days and Season 2 will be out soon.

On a personal note, Mirzapur is a show I loved and I did get to tell him face to face that after I had seen it, I felt that all other shows of a similar genre, looked like Kiddy Disney shows to me, he laughed and told me a big thank you.

From Mirzapur to Om Shanti Om was the next talk with the experienced screenwriter, teacher & lyricist of over 400 Bollywood songs Mayur Puri. He sang the lyrics of two of his famous songs and I was shocked to learn the real double meanings to them which I cannot even mention here, but rest assured I will pay closer attention to these seriously talented lyrics when I hear them next! But on a more serious note Mayur who is from a small town and has truly worked his way to the top gave the room the most enlightening advice when he said that there is no Special Cult ‘Illuminati’ type zone of people with power in film, TV or OTT who meet every night to discuss who will make it through in this big bad world of Bollywood. He said, “If you have a concept or story or lyrics or anything just go out there & put it out to the world.”

Patrick Graham, a British national, who is a Bandra boy was inspired by the torture chambers set up in Kashmir to make Ghoul. He spoke with his editor Nitin about the use of several techniques of the horror genre and stay away from cliches.

Nitin Baid, one of India’s top editors, ended the conversation with how he edited Gully Boy with Zoya Akhtar in a most unique way away from India somewhere in Europe.

Lunch break was a nice long line of hungry delegates where a lot of people in both rooms got to meet and greet each other. If you want to know, the line was so long that I started with dessert first & then my food!

Post lunch was director Raghav Subu & editor Gourav Gopal of the current new age cult show Kota Factory by TVF.

Kota Factory is a show I have not seen but have heard in glowing appreciation from various people from within the industry.

Did you know that Raghav, on pure instinct, decided the show would be in B&W, a decision he was not sure of and hence shot it with 2 cameras - one in colour & one B&W. Days before the launch, he informed the backers of the show that it will be in B&W and they were fine with it!

There was also a rather interesting take on all the drone shots used in the show and how they were used to tell the story in a far more constructive way.

Danish Aslam was up next with his young DOP Jay Bhansali. Danish, who has been to film school, assisted big directors, made a film & so much more, was giving a crash course on guerilla filmmaking and how he had to unlearn everything he learned in film school to move forward in the real world. His was a no holds barred take on what you have to do to convert your ideas into reality in the limited budgets & time constraints. Those who are NOT in the top 2 per cent of makers who get to make a Sacred Games or Made In Heaven with lavish budgets have to adhere to make the most of what we have with our stories and ideas.

I would strongly recommend that you see his Masterclass if and when it comes on YouTube and learn from what he showed by several examples of his own footage to the rest of us with his shows It’s Not That Simple and Time Out and how he & his DOP shot some of the footage on the streets in unique ways with no lights or fancy equipment. His was a real-time learning lesson for future makers of content on the web.

From here I managed to rush to the other room where I caught and wished had heard the full soul-bearing method & methodology of actor, writer & director Dhruv Sehgal (for the record you could only attend one Masterclass but I paid for both & hence managed to jump between both rooms).

Upon entering the room, Dhruv was speaking and there was an image on the large display screen on stage, of a cheap blue bed sheet on a table, a laptop and a pizza box in a Mumbai home and how Dhruv was telling the enthralled audience in the room of future aspiring writers and creators about his office space that was his room in Mumbai and how he wrote his show, ‘Little Things’ in that humble room of his which made to Netflix and all our rooms across the planet.

Tea Break - Somewhere at this point, while eating cake, I met the organisers of Indiantelvision.com and was asked by the organizer and owner Anil Wanvari if I would be interested in writing a review/critique of the event.  Which I agreed to do and now I am an actor who is about to become a first time writer!

For the record, I always wanted to be a writer since my film appreciation course and with all the films I have been watching since age five and with the current amount of content I watch daily, here was my chance. So I say 'YES' looking at the man. I have no idea what I was doing saying yes to him in all honesty, but do let me know if I did alright dear readers.

Anil tells me casually to do a 500-word piece on the event. I am on word 1326 as I type this!

BUT,

I have saved the best for the last and I hope you are still with me dear reader and have not gone on to check your phone for all the notifications popping on your screen from Instagram or Facebook and other social media platforms that have been calling you all this while. I am trying to explain in as concise a manner all that I learned and absorbed on that day at the Westin hotel in Mumbai.

The last session of the day at 5 pm on 4 October 2019 was a tough choice. In one room were the multiple writers of Sacred Games & in the other room the one that I did not move from for some strange reason was the writer, director, creator, and if I can say with no doubt in my mind, a genius of a man  Richie Mehta. He has given us all the most important show (in my personal opinion) of this decade - Delhi Crime.

Delhi Crime is a show that I first urge all of you who have not seen, to see today, right now if you can. Those of you who are worried or afraid to see it let me assure you.  The graphic violence of the incident that every Indian never wants to feel again is not depicted in the show (necessary spoiler for all those who have not seen the show) but what is shown in the show in painstaking detail is how the Delhi Police captured the criminals who committed the most heinous crime in the collective memory of India to date.

This is a procedural drama that should be mandatory in all training academies in India and how this one man from Canada single-handedly researched the show for four years and how he managed to bring the reality of it to the viewers.

Richie Mehta is a zen-like man with a soft-spoken voice and a crystal clear thought process.

While he was on stage, this frail man in a jeans and T-shirt took off his floaters (I have not seen those in years on anyone’s feet since college) and sat barefoot on stage, first took everyone’s questions in the room as notes on his phone all of them methodically and then began to answer the questions in a systematic manner on how he made Delhi Crime or rather how he made it with so much authenticity that made the show look so real to all of us who have seen it.

He explained how he studied the case files, the hours of interviews with the Delhi Police, his observations while he waited in police stations and spoke to the senior officers, traffic police constables and other officers in charge of the case, how they told him facts about the case and other cases because nobody ever bothered to ask them these basic questions that Richie asked while he did the research for the show. He also had to keep an objective viewpoint to the show while he shot it with his Danish DOP with no Netflix on board (which came in much later after the show was made).

What I learned most from this unique human being was that he had no big aspiration with what he was making apart from a duty-bound conviction to tell the story with utmost honesty.

In conclusion, here is what I learned from all these brilliant minds on that day.

All that matters is your idea, your conviction, your belief in the idea, and the desire to make it. Nothing can stop you.

The industry has gone through a paradigm shift in its outlook to content. Especially when it comes to OTT platforms, they are looking for the next big idea more than you know. It's not about stars, nepotism, contacts, money or power. It's about the idea and that can come from anywhere in this current set up whether you are from the industry or from outside from a small town or a big city. It can be made into a show whether you are an experienced old-time writer or a first-time corporate who has a show in his mind. It can come from you who is reading this or from me who is writing this for you, the new world of content for OTT is open to us all, so write it down and get it made, or wait for Vidnet 2020 to get inspired.

(The author is a TV actor. The views expressed in this article are his own and Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to them.)

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