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TV is story-teller's new novel; audience is Bharat, not India: Star's Banerjee

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MUMBAI: Since five to six years, television has become the talking point. Th series such as 'Breaking Bad' to Transparent to Narcos to 'Game of Thrones' to 24, and now POW (Prisoners of Wars) has changed the experience of television viewing.

Filmmakers nationally and internationally are now getting into television. Abhinay Deo who has done 24, Anurag Kashyap (Yudh), Anurag Basu( Rabindranath Series) and Nikkhil Adavni (POW) are getting into multi-series television shows.

In a panel discussion on ‘Evolution of Storytelling on Television’ at ‘JIO Mami Mumbai Film Festival with Star', the question of the hour was -- Why all of a sudden television has become more important? The scale and scope for a nuanced story-telling on television, higher reach and inclusive nature of television vis-à-vis films, how TV entertains not just India but Bharat. How television impacts the lives of viewers directly and stimulates change in individuals and society at large?

And, who could better address this question than those who dabbled in the television space, the likes of -- the Israeli writer and director Gideon Raff, the American filmmaker Cary Fukunaga, the Star India content studio head Gaurav Banerjee and the Indian filmmaker and director Nikkhil Advani.

The session was moderated by Y-Films content and development head Nikhil Taneja. Taneja raised a question to the panellists: Why television has become more important all of a sudden?

“I don’t know what’s happening worldwide but, in the United States, there has been probably a dearth of mid-range budget dramatic stories which are niche, and I think people were attracted to such stories, and there is an opportunity to tell such stories on television,” says Fukunaga.

Raff adds, “There is a lack of scope for adult stories told in cinema nowadays. It’s harder and harder to tell stories in our way in cinema, and so, I think, a lot of such stories came to television.”

While Banerjee believes that television is the new novel, and therefore a lot of stories which need to be told in a scheduled timeframe where graphs need to be longer is only possible on television. Also, television remains the medium for writers, and creative directors. "Television audience is larger, and they give more and more opportunity to get our crafts right whereas, I think, in film business, it is more of a first day, a first look (game), and therefore it has gone into the marketer's domain,” opined Banerjee.

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Amrita Puri, Nikkhil Advani and Sandhya Mridul

Advani, who recently forayed into television production with the Indian adaptation of 'Prisoners of War', recalls, “I approached it with a lot of skepticism when Star approached me. I did 'D-Day' and it was difficult film for me, and after the launch, everybody was saying that why don’t you make the D-Day part 2? So, a leading channel in Hindi GEC space wanted to do something similar, and they came to me with Hatufim. If you were on such a story with an amazing team, then why we shouldn’t come to television?”

Before Ekta Kapoor came to television, the Indian women did not hold the remote control of a television set, which were controlled by men. After Ekta’s serial came in with women as the protagonist, the remote travelled to women. Somewhere, it empowered women in India. "How does television impact the lives of viewers directly and stimulates change in individuals and society at large?," asked Taneja.

Banerjee said that a study on television in India was done by two professors from University of Chicago in which they surveyed rural India, and researched the early time of satellite television. At that point in time, Ekta Kapoor was making around 47 of the top 50 shows. “There were women who were taking charge for the first time of their destiny,” he said.

"For a large part of our county, we are talking to Bharat, and not to India. In Bharat, the experience in television viewing is new. There, a storyteller such as Ekta or shows such as 'Diya Aur Baati Hum' is changing destinies. A lot of comment has been made on 'Naagin' and 'Bharamraskhas'. “I have nothing to do with these shows as they are not on my network, but nobody's sleep has been affected more than mine with the normal success of these shows. If you want to tell a fantasy story around a snake, there is no problem with that. In the west, they have Twilight and you too have the 'Game of Thrones'. Yes, I do have a problem with a lot of regressive content but that doesn’t happen on TV screen alone; that happens in news channels and in a lot of movies made in India," opined Banerjee.

You work with your story the way you want, your actors are not determined with what Friday Box Office is going to be like. For long formats on television, one can explore characters and graphs, but it’s not that the films are not fun. Its important to tell a story, and films and television are the media for reaching out to the masses.

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