The Huddle 2020 | Little Things, Upstarts and the rise of the digital stars

Actors discussed the way the market for films has changed for better

For Manisha Koirala, an actor who ruled Bollywood in the 1990s, getting back to the showbiz after a sabbatical, specially on an OTT (over-the-top media service) platform like Netflix, was all about reinventing herself. “I studied what was working in the market, what the young generation was liking, the new directors to work with… It was a new setting. I was trying a short film [Lust Stories]… I was apprehensive about how people will perceive and accept me,” she said in ‘The Netflix Session’ on the second day of The Huddle.

Digital stardom

Ms. Koirala, along with actors Mithila Palkar and Priyanshu Painyuli, and Srishti Arya, Netflix’s Director for International Film, India, was in conversation with Rosella Stephen, Associate Editor, The Hindu, on creating stars in the digital age.

The “Internet sensation” that she is often called, Ms. Palkar spoke about how her web series, Little Things, got propelled in an unfathomable way when it was acquired by Netflix. “With a click of a button, we could reach 190 countries and millions of subscribers. There were so many watching and liking it,” she said.

For someone who wanted to be an actor but didn’t know how to go about it, Internet was one of the many experiments she dabbled in. She feels her growth in it happened organically: “It was emerging as a legitimate medium of entertainment and I was part of that change.”

For Bengaluru boy Priyanshu Painyuli, known for his performance in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, the gates to digital stardom opened with the Netflix film Upstarts. He found himself being recognised in Taiwan and getting a free acupuncture treatment. He will soon be seen in the company of Chris Hemsworth in Extraction, a Russo Brothers’ production for Netflix. “One day, you are watching Avengers and second day, you are in a Russo Brothers film… Suddenly, you find the stakes going up and your audience going global… My next dream is to get an Oscar… I can now think that Martin Scorsese will see my work and cast me in The Irishman 2,” he said.

Ms. Arya spoke about Netflix’s commitment to telling an authentic story in the best possible way, in a language that it needs to be told in. She gave the example of a forthcoming Hindi film about a family living in Kerala where the parents are from Maharashtra and so they speak to each other in Marathi. The kids have grown up in Kerala and can talk in Malayalam and are also shown speaking English in school.

“Netflix is all about enabling creative people to come and do their best work. People may tend to remember the pedigreed names but the platform has also been about new female and male voices. Maska, Chopsticks, Upstarts have come from new people. It’s a healthy mix,” Ms. Arya stressed.

According to Ms. Palkar, Netflix has democratised opportunities for stories and storytellers. “Different content and narratives would not have been possible if it had not happened,” she said. Ms. Koirala spoke of how it had liberated film professionals from the fear of the market and ticket sales: “It’s about excelling, not missing a chance… It’s very precious, makes us put our best foot forward.”

‘Right-sizing budgets’

In response to an audience question, Ms. Arya said that the doors of Netflix were never closed to ideas and makers. On the question of whether the budgets are equivalent to those of the big screen films, she said: “We right size all our budgets…what [amount] the material needs to be effective.”

Mr. Painyuli spoke about the change in stardom in the times of social media. “People connect with you more intimately,” he said. For Ms. Palkar, it was about instant gratification and interactiveness, as it happens backstage after a theatre performance. “People watch the video and respond immediately,” she said.

Ms. Koirala spoke about the limited time she spends on social media, and of being on a learning curve there. “Time is precious to me and I focus on my craft,” she said, also underlining the importance of occasional digital detox.

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