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From Big Screens to Streaming Success: Meet the OTT Game-Changers

From Big Screens to Streaming Success: Meet the OTT Game-Changers

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Hashtag Magazine in an exclusive tête-à-tête, with actors who have not only seized the OTT landscape with powerful and impactful roles but have also become alternate stars in the industry. These versatile performers have seamlessly navigated between mainstream cinema and the burgeoning world of OTT, captivating audiences with their nuanced portrayals. Lipika Varma and Sinduri Vuppala unveil the stories, challenges, and triumphs of these actors who have left an indelible mark, proving that true talent transcends the boundaries of screens.

Who: Manoj Bajpayee

Spotlight: Padma Shri awardee and National Award winner, Manoj Bajpayee, stands as a leading figure on various OTT platforms, captivating audiences with his recent releases. With a versatile portfolio spanning Hindi, Telugu, and Tamil cinema he emerged as one of Bollywood’s finest actors, earning accolades like three National Film Awards, six Filmfare Awards, and the Padma Shri in 2019.

Despite initial challenges, Bajpayee’s journey began with a breakthrough role in ‘Satya’ (1998), establishing him as the iconic Bhiku Mhatre.

His recent triumphs include the National Film Award for Best Actor in ‘Bhonsle’ and the Filmfare OTT Award for ‘The Family Man’ (2021), hailed as his magnum opus. The series garnered immense popularity, with both seasons becoming the most-watched shows. In an exclusive conversation, we delve into the nuances of Bajpayee’s craft, his forthcoming project Joram and his reflections on the success of ‘The Family Man.’

OTT is proving to be a boon for actors and technicians, do you prefer OTT or films, and what factors influence your decision?

OTT has indeed emerged at an opportune time. This provides another platform for actors and technicians to gain visibility. It is advantageous for all of us to have as many mediums as possible so that every capable individual can secure employment, stay busy, and lead a fulfilling life. I am open to working in both mediums, but the decision about whether a film should go to OTT or be shown on the big screen should be left to the makers. My focus is on working diligently and engaging in diverse and meaningful projects.

This is a happening year for you. What’s your perspective on the future?
I’m grateful for the work I’m getting, and I’m always eager for quality projects. Joram, which received acclaim at international festivals, will be released soon. I’m optimistic about the future.

What are your thoughts on the increasing recognition of OTT content at IFFI through awards?

This indicates that OTT is gaining significant power and has become the preferred medium for everyone in India. Quality content is being meticulously delivered across different platforms. I feel blessed especially when I receive such overwhelming responses. I am living my dream of being part of magical and exceptional content in the industry, and this success is largely attributed to the contributions of young and fresh directors.

How does it feel to be labelled the ‘King of OTT’?

I have never been in favour of such terms; I’ve always steered clear of these labels. My focus has always been on contributing to good stories that entertain the audience emotionally and intellectually, stories that need to be told. I am dedicated to working in that direction rather than getting involved in what can be termed as ‘Herogiri.’ While being recognized on OTT is indeed a compliment, I choose my projects very carefully, and that approach is going to remain the same. Currently, I am committed to ‘The Family Man,’ and simultaneously, I’m shooting for a few films that may be released in theatres or go on OTT platforms, we’re uncertain about that.

Family Man has gained immense popularity. How do you feel about its universal appeal?

I am happy that it has transcended the boundaries of East, West, North and South. I have a huge audience and also a huge fan base. Surprisingly, Family Man also won me a fan base among children – It feels wonderful, and I’m humbled by it too.

You’ve emphasized fair payment for work. Are you satisfied with OTT’s compensation?

Regarding payment, I don’t prefer to discuss it. Over the years, I have emphasized the importance of fair compensation. Sometimes it aligns with expectations, and at times, it doesn’t. My focus and concern have always been that, after so many years in the glitz and glamour industry, it would be encouraging to get paid according to the work put in. Receiving remuneration in line with the effort is good for boosting morale.

Any plans to venture into film production, especially on OTT platforms?

I’m not a full-fledged producer. I have been part of the production team because they needed my support. Tomorrow if I need to attach my name to a film I will do so to support the film.

You are an actor with so much acclaim, you won many national awards, do actors get intimidated to work with you?

I don’t want anyone to feel nervous while working with me. I think I’m a very easy person to work with. I try to help and support every person who works with me. That is how we can create magic on the screen. I also take their advice when they see my performance. I try to collaborate with actors new or old. That’s how we all can do wonders with every film.

What can we expect from your upcoming projects?

We’ll start shooting the next part of The Family Man in February 2024. Jorum releases on December 8th in theatres, and in the next month, the series ‘Killer Soup’ will premiere.

Who: Radhika Madan

Spotlight: Radhika Madan embarked on her journey into the world of glitz and glamour through television before making her debut in Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Pataakha’ in 2018. Since then, there has been no turning back for the versatile actress, who has shared the screen with the late Irrfan Khan and veteran actors like Tabu, Konkana Sen Sharma, and Naseeruddin Shah. Currently, she is immersed in various OTT projects. Her latest film, ‘Sanaa,’ premiered at IFFI 2023 in Goa, creating significant waves.

In 2023, Radhika Madan stands out as the sole actress with the highest number of movie releases, showcasing not only her prolific work ethic but also her diverse range as an artist. From her impactful television debut in ‘Meri Aashiqui Tum Se Hi’ to her notable films such as ‘Angrezi Medium’ and ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota,’ Radhika has garnered acclaim, including a Screen Award for Best Female Debut. With an array of projects in the pipeline, Radhika Madan continues to make a significant impact on the cinematic landscape.

From Kuttey, Sanaa to Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video, this year alone you have portrayed multiple characters and donned multiple roles…

I can’t quite explain what it is about me, but the moment I step onto the sets, I seamlessly transform into the character, completely immersed and oblivious to everything else around me. It’s like I flip a switch and inhabit the essence of the character. I distinctly remember this phenomenon occurring for the first time while working with Irrfan sir; to me, he wasn’t just Irrfan sir, but someone I felt a deep connection with, like a father figure. This realization hit me while watching the trailer. The same experience repeated itself during the filming of ‘Kuttey.’ Despite being surrounded by seasoned veterans, I felt their characters come alive in the scenes we performed together, eliminating any sense of nervousness. The focus is always on truly living and breathing the character.

What was your experience working with veterans like Irrfan Khan and Naseeruddin Shah?

I feel both are very strong in their craft. When they come on the set, they keep a space for something unknown to happen. They are not rigid in their craft. I learned a valuable lesson from Irrfan sir- Never stop being a student. I distinctly recall a crucial scene around midnight. I noticed Irrfan sir pacing up and down with his script in hand. I wondered why such an experienced actor needed to rehearse. It was at that moment I realized he remained nervous and excited, always finding ways to enhance his craft. This is something I’ve adopted from him. Regardless of how far I progress, I am committed to never cease being a student.

What inspired your portrayal of the role in Sanaa?

We have a lot of people in our lives who inspire us for a particular role. There could be some very close acquaintances that are like Sanaa. I healed my relationships with many people through this film. I couldn’t understand those people at that time, as I felt they were wrong. They were entitled, but I started to understand them more and also find commonalities between them and myself. We need to see beyond their actual personality. That’s how I healed my life when things were difficult.

You have done so many diverse roles, how do you select your scripts?

Upon finishing a film, I always find myself pondering, what’s next? I have a strong desire to explore diverse roles because I easily get bored portraying the same life on screen. It’s amusing to note that after playing characters in films like Pataakha, Angrezi Medium, Kaccha Limbu, and now Sanaa, I often receive offers for similar roles. For instance, I was approached for roles resembling a teenage girl after portraying Tarika Bansal in Angrezi Medium, or a village girl post-Pataakha. It becomes challenging to convey to people that repeating the same character feels stifling to me. I prefer to keep moving forward and embrace new challenges in my acting journey.

Who: Babil Khan
Spotlight:
Babil Khan, the son of the late legendary actor Irrfan Khan and producer Sutapa Sikdar, has emerged as a promising talent in the Bollywood spotlight. Carrying the legacy of his renowned father, Irrfan Khan is known for his exceptional performances. Having completed his schooling at Tridha School in Mumbai and pursued further studies at the University of Westminster in London, Babil Khan embarked on his Bollywood journey as a camera assistant in the movie ‘Qarib Qarib Single’ (2017). However, it was in the web series ‘The Railway Men: The Untold Story of Bhopal 1984’ (2023) that Babil made his acting debut, showcasing his raw talent. His presence at the 54th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, especially during the screening of his film Qala and The Railway Men, echoed the influence and legacy of his father at this prestigious cinematic event. With charm and grace, Babil Khan has stepped into the limelight, hinting at a promising future in the world of cinema.

Your father, the late Irrfan Khan, was a regular face at IFFI. Are you consciously taking forward his legacy?

No, I’m not consciously running any legacy. Reflecting on what my dad did would only keep me in the past. At this age, I prefer to absorb and appreciate everything he accomplished. As I age, I’ll revisit these memories, contemplating the path I’ve walked. In the future, I’ll refresh these moments and derive satisfaction from the experiences. It’s a firm commitment—pakka.

The Railway Men series seems important on Netflix. Why is it significant?

The Railway Men is significant because it sheds light on the sacrifices made by the entire team, both men and women who devoted their lives. It is essential for viewers to witness the events of that time, drawing inspiration for heroism within themselves. A hero doesn’t have to possess grandeur; everyone can be a superhero. When a crisis emerges, it hinges on the choices made in those critical moments. It’s the perspective adopted at that juncture that defines a hero, and anyone with that power can opt to be one.

What was your thought process after watching ‘The Railway Men’ and ‘Qala’?
When I saw the first cut of ‘Qala’, I told Mama that there was no point signing anything anymore; I will explore other passions. I had the same feeling after I watched ‘The Railway Men’ for the first time. But with ‘The Railway Men’, I gained one thing—I can’t judge myself.

How do you approach a character, considering the baggage you carry into the industry?

I never thought about anything before beginning my career, which helped me go further professionally. I knew I was coming into the profession with loads of baggage. If I was thinking, I would have been still thinking, and my career would have never taken off. I knew there was a lot of pressure.

When portraying a character, do you leave your real self behind?

I never think that you should leave your real self behind while taking up any character to play on the screen. You should keep that character within you. You cannot be somebody else; if you are doing so, you would be faking it. Everybody plays their identity as everyone is an actor.

How do you express characters even when feeling low or in pain?

The cure for pain is feeling the pain deep down yourself. If you are feeling ‘low,’ feel it. Whenever pain and a low feeling seep in, don’t try to avoid it. When you allow nature to express it, you don’t feel that pain.

Can you share any details about your forthcoming projects?

I cannot reveal anything about my forthcoming projects. I have indeed signed a few projects, but I have signed a DA, so I will talk later in the next meeting.

Do you feel any pressure while signing a project/film?

No, I just sign with my gut feelings. Also, I get a calling from high above—from the almighty God.

Blurb:

Babil Khan, “I knew I was coming into the profession with loads of baggage. Honestly speaking if I was thinking, I would have been still thinking.”

Pankaj Tripathi

Spotlight: Renowned for his unparalleled acting finesse and calm demeanour, Pankaj Tripathi, an alumnus of the National School of Drama, has etched his name in the Hindi film and television industry. Commencing his journey with the 2004 film ‘Run’, Tripathi has consistently delivered stellar performances in movies such as ‘Omkara’ (2006), ‘Dharm’ (2007), ‘Raavan’ (2010), and ‘Chillar Party’ (2011). The turning point in his career arrived with Anurag Kashyap’s crime drama series ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (2012), where his portrayal of henchman Sultan Qureshi earned widespread acclaim.

Having contributed to over 40 films, Tripathi’s versatility transcended to Tamil cinema with his 2018 debut in ‘Kaala’, sharing the screen with Rajinikanth and Nana Patekar. Beyond the silver screen, he garnered praise for his roles in popular web series like Amazon Prime’s ‘Mirzapur’ and Netflix’s ‘Sacred Games’. Now, Pankaj Tripathi steps into the shoes of the eminent Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the biopic ‘Main Atal Hoon’.

Actors like you, Manoj Bajpayee, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have redefined stardom. How do you view this evolution?

In reality, it’s a win-win situation for all of us. We’ve simply portrayed our characters to the best of our abilities. I believe that audiences have evolved and accepted us. I don’t possess conventional or traditional actor attributes, and the fact that the audience has embraced and chosen us is a blessing from the Almighty. It’s the people who have shaped us, and I would like to say, it’s their victory.

You are known for performing diverse roles, both in Art and Commercial films. How do you strike a balance?

I always find an entertainment element in whatever I choose to perform. Also, I make sure I strike a balance in choosing both art and commercial films. Only if I understand the story and feel I can be a part of the story, I go ahead with that project. However, the story has to be close to my heart.

If faced with a choice between Art and commercial films due to date clashes, how would you decide?
This is a very difficult thing to do. I am a greedy and hungry actor so I will try to choose both, even if both projects go on the floors simultaneously. It’s very simple if the makers want to see me in that character, they will surely adjust the date and I would not like to leave any film. I have been doing this for so many years, so I always try to give my best

Tell us a little about your upcoming movie. After playing Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji, you mentioned learning so much about him that you’ve penned a book. Can you share more about this?
Yes, that’s true, I learnt a lot about him while playing the role, that I have penned a book. As soon as I read the script, it was so well written, that I decided to take it up immediately. If a script is well written, half the job of the actor is done. We just have to put our life into the character and that is something I always do with all my characters. It’s a wonderful story and I have done my job honestly.

Your portrayal of Vajpayee’s look has received positive attention on social media. Can you tell us about the preparation for this role?

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Credit for the look goes to the makeup team for their meticulous work. Personally, I engaged in rigorous workshops, putting in my best effort to present our former Prime Minister Atal ji authentically. The movie is releasing next month, and I hope people relate to it.

How do you perceive Atal ji, both as a poet and a strong politician?

A poet is always a soft-hearted person and Atal ji was very soft-hearted and a balanced politician. As an actor, we at times have to make stern decisions, even Atal ji had to make stern decisions at times in his entire career. The story is an assimilation of an individual’s personality and every individual has a different individuality.

Is there a possibility of you joining politics in the future?

There is no probability of me joining politics. I am passionate about cinema and dedicated to my film career, focusing on the roles I get. I am getting good roles to play and I am passionate about cinema so I am here doing well and shall continue with my film career.

Despite achieving significant success, you remain grounded. How do you view success?

Success is temporary. Your work will leave an undying impression in the minds of the people and that is important. I have learned to respect everyone’s point of view. Usually, as human beings, we don’t give weightage to others’ points of view. I’ve learned to respect everyone’s point of view.

What other projects do you have in line?

Apart from Main Atal Hoon, I have some exciting films lined up for 2024. You will have to wait and watch.

Who: Saiyami Kher

Spotlight: Saiyami Kher started her cinematic journey with the Telugu film Rey and gained acclaim for her Hindi debut in Mirzya. Born in Nashik, Maharashtra, to Adwait Kher and former Miss India Uttara Mhatre Kher, she belongs to a family of accomplished artists. Making her mark in Marathi cinema with Mauli, she later ventured into the digital realm with Special OPS. Her diverse roles showcase her talent, with notable appearances in Choked (2020) and Wild Dog. This year, she received rave reviews for R Balki’s Ghoomer and has two upcoming projects: one directed by Rahul Dholakiya and Special Ops 2 with Neeraj Pandya.

How has your journey in the entertainment industry been so far, and what drew you to acting?

Well, it’s been a roller coaster ride, it’s taught me a lot and made me a better person. I feel the best thing about acting is that you get to meet 200 new people on the film set, you get to interact with them and learn from their lives. I was drawn towards acting because I am inherently an introvert and for me acting is therapeutic. It lets me bring out everything I have stored within me, so for me, it’s a form of expression and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

You have had a very unconventional journey, while your movies did ok, you were brought into the limelight with your projects on OTT…Did you ever think of quitting in between?

No, never. I love acting and can’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t look at it like that. I feel if my debut film was not Miia maybe people would have not even known me. I’m very grateful for every project that I have gotten, be it a Hindi film, Telugu film, Marathi film, a theatrical film or an OTT release. For me, it’s about playing a character that has been offered to me and doing the best job that I can. I feel the OTT world has opened up a whole lot of opportunities for many actors technicians, and writers and I hope it continues to be this way where we try telling original stories.

Do you think you have arrived with Ghoomer because you received some very good reviews for your role…

I have not arrived, I have a long, long way to go. I don’t think any actor can ever feel that they’ve arrived because it will not motivate them to do better. Ghoomer has been life-altering because like I said every project I do is to make me a better person and Ghoomer has taught me a lot in life, I am very overwhelmed by the reviews and responses that the film has got. I realised the impact of the cinema after Ghoomer because of the number of people who have come to me and said that they thought their problems were big until they saw this film and have been so inspired by it. I’m very proud that I am a part of this brand of cinema. So, the appreciation feels wonderful and the fight will always be for our film to reach more and more people.

OTT platforms have become a significant part of the entertainment industry. What attracted you to work in the OTT space?

As an actor, I don’t look at what the medium is. My job is to act, whether it’s a play, a film for theatrical release, or a series for an OTT platform. The method doesn’t change; I remain focused on the task at hand. I believe OTT platforms have provided more opportunities for actors, and I hope this trend continues. It’s crucial that OTT platforms remain content-driven rather than star-driven, ensuring a continued emphasis on quality storytelling.

Can you share your experience portraying diverse roles in films and OTT projects? Do you approach a character differently when it’s for a digital platform compared to traditional cinema?

No, the method remains the same for me, regardless of the medium. The effort remains the same as well. I had the opportunity to play different characters and that’s what excites me to be able to live different lives and be able to live different characters. I look forward to doing something different with every project that I do.

Are there advantages you find in the OTT space compared to traditional filmmaking? Do you think the digital format allows for more experimental and diverse storytelling?

The only advantage I feel is the longer format. A lot of stories can’t be told only in two hours so a longer format helps in that case. When you have eight episodes you can go into more detail about every character, which is what I enjoy about doing a series on an OTT platform.

How do you prepare for your roles, and has your process evolved with the changing dynamics of the industry?

I tailor my preparations based on the requirements of the role. For example, for my character Sita in ‘Choked,’ which is Anurag’s film, the physical aspect was crucial. I spent a month constantly wearing a saree and performing daily chores, going to the bank, and doing activities in a saree, things we might not typically do. For ‘Faadu,’ I delved into poetry as Manjiri, the character, has a deep appreciation for it. Physical training was a necessity for ‘Ghoomer,’ where I played a handicap cricketer, requiring me to learn action.

I’ve been fortunate that with each project, I’ve acquired a new skill, whether it’s horse riding for ‘Mirza,’ cricket for ‘Ghoomer,’ or counting money quickly as a bank accountant for ‘Choked.’ While the physical preparations vary, my emotional and mental preparation for each character remains consistent. I delve into the character’s backstory, associate smells and music with them, and even write letters as the character, a practice I’ve maintained since my first film.

You have worked with directors like Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, Anurag Kashyap and R. Balki. Any dream role and project that you’re looking forward to?

I have been fortunate to work with the best directors in our country. My dream would be to work with Rajkumar Hirani, Mani Ratnam, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I have an endless list of directors. I have a film produced by Excel directed by Rahul Dholakiya due for release and Special Ops 2 with Neeraj Pandya.

Blurbs:

-My job is to act, whether it’s a play, a film for theatrical release, or a series for an OTT platform. The method doesn’t change; I remain focused on the task at hand.

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