On a cold winter night in Uttar Pradesh, a night of revelry turns tragic when a wealthy aristocrat is murdered after his wedding. When a truth-obsessed officer takes charge of the case, a hair-raising story unfolds, with fascinating twists and turns. No spoilers here, but Raat Akeli Hai, a Netflix movie starring Nawazuddin Siddique and Radhika Apte, is a solid whodunit that’s just one among a host of great content coming out of India, thanks to a new focus on stories and writers.
“I give a lot of credit to the rise of multiplexes, which made room for movies that weren’t in the conventional masala format,” says Chaitanya Hegde, co-founder of Tulsea, a talent management agency that opened its doors looking for writers. in 2010. “Now, with OTTs, you could be a writer in any genre and still find an audience for your story.”
What these platforms have also done is bring content from around the world into our homes, and this exposure is broadening perspectives on what a good story can be. “It’s all in the telling of the story, isn’t it?” Hegde says.
creating a difference
For Smita Singh, who wrote Raat Akeli Hai and has worked on Netflix’s hit show Sacred Games, viewers who want long-form stories to be engaging don’t care about big names. “I think in-demand stories are as diverse and intellectually challenging as the people who tune into them,” he says. “It’s finally okay to be a niche storyteller.”
In recent years, all kinds of non-traditional stories have gotten screen space in India. From movies like Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo and the supernatural thriller Bulbbul produced by Anushka Sharma, to web series like Your Honor, The Family Man, Mirzapur and Made in Heaven, the usual format is being turned upside down. This also means that gender roles are blurring and the world is your oyster. And while mainstream movies like Sooryavanshi aren’t going anywhere, pan-Indian industries are more open-minded in pouring their money into varied content.
“We are in a time and space where a progressive film like Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is being made in a commercial space,” says Hegde.
Spinning tales together
Arati Raval, who made her debut with the Interview story as part of Netflix’s Feels Like Ishq anthology, says that with OTT shows, writers have come together as a community. “Writing has become more democratic and accessible. It’s more collaborative, it allows you to learn from people and teaches you to work with others, rather than being a solo exercise.”
More and more writers are also joining from different parts of the country, breaking down geographic and language barriers and adding more flavor, nuance, and perspective to the mix. This also leads to more exciting content: The Family Man, for example, was created by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK Andhadhun was co-written by Kannada filmmaker Hemanth Rao.
“In the south, there is a lot of emphasis on the narrative, the plot, its design, etc.,” says Rao. This is difficult for Hindi content because the language itself is very diverse in India and each region has its own flavor, making it difficult to make something that works for everyone. Yet South Indian industries, Rao adds, stay one step ahead because there is a “crazy desire to tell stories in a unique way. Decisions are made quickly, and it’s the stories that take risks that break through.” And it is this experience that regional storytellers bring.
teething problems and solutions
Of course, there is a long road ahead. “Usually people’s idea [production houses] understanding the content is a challenge,” says Singh. “You write something, you submit it, and the decision maker has gatekeepers who make very subjective decisions about what’s good and what’s not. There is a certain arbitrariness in the process. Perspective and eloquence often supersede actual storytelling skills. That really needs to change.”
Raval says that too much has happened too fast and often leads to writing stories with crazy deadlines, where the creative process becomes a drag. “The West has mastered this art, so they can have a story ready in three to six months. We are not there yet. Also, we don’t have enough experienced showrunners to guide us through the process.”
Writing should also be developed as an appropriate skill. India doesn’t have enough writing schools to train screenwriters, but immersing yourself in different content really helps, says Raval. Her experience working at a production company that produced award-winning films like Dosar, The Last Lear, and Do Dooni Char, really grew her. Singh also emphasizes: “Ideas and intellect are not substitutes for real skills.”
For Rao, the coming together of regional industries to create content will eventually lead to generating global demand. “In five years, I think we will be what the South Korean industry is today,” he says.