The Digital Factor: Where does this lead the future of the Hindi Film Industry?

So currently the nation is not having a single conversation without starting with ‘Have you seen Sacred Games yet?’ or even social media posts where people are sharing how they are also a part of this trend and not left behind, the question a

Saif-Ali-Khan-Nawazuddin-Siddiqui-Sacred-Games-FI-Bollywormrises is, seeing this is the first time a nation has gone hoo-haa over a web series, can we say these are going to be a new form of entertainment for the regular entertainment consumer? Reason why I say entertainment consumer is that in a country where Film and Television already have their loyal audience can this be a form of merging the two audiences together?

Not exactly film, Not exactly television

Just recently Saif Ali Khan was interview in which interestingly mentioned that “Web Series is not a form of either television or film. But more of graphic novel” and I couldn’t agree more. The usual norms of Indian Film or Television have not been visible in Sacred Games or haven’t been sustainably used. The scale of the production is almost on the level of a huge blockbuster film but there certainly some dynamics of the show that cannot be used in a big Hindi film blockbuster, certain techniques and certain overdoes for example the violence and sex being so exposed.The television shows we get available on cable TV do not appeal to the young audience, shows we see regular on Colors or Star Plus cater mainly to the family audience. The shows still have that fixed premise which has been going on for years, and the youth have simply….well moved on! It’s actually an interesting concern with the rise of the web series will the future audience still take to shows such as Naagin 3 or Ye Hai Mohabbatein, which could actually be a relief if such get replaced.


Interestingly years ago, Anurag Kashyap’s Yudh was huge let-down despite the amount of hype when it premièred on Sony TV and the show was cancelled after the first season. It didn’t find an audience and it was critized for being too ‘odd’ for the regular Sony audience. Some people from the film fraternity expressed how they did not like how Amitabh’s character was shaped out. Who knows, maybe people were just not this convention.

Sacred Games being in such hype and being the first Netflix web series of India, no stone was left unturned for its publicity campaign. Hoarding from South Mumbai, to Juhu to Goregoan were placed all over just like another big screen event was being released. The audience now already prepared after a lot of the youth have spent a substantial amount of time of binge watching Netflix shows that the format, the concept of an average web series has become clear.

The quintessential Hindi Hero

We can say that Sacred Games has given Saif Ali Khan a new lease of life, he has actually made a comeback without actually going anywhere. Sacred Games was as needed to Saif as desperately as the village priest needed a local church in order to preach and practice. Let’s take a look at Saif’s last few films that have released recently:

Kaalakaandi (2018) – 3.85 Crores (Opening Weekend) – 6.34 Crores (Total Collection)

Chef (2017) – 4 Crores (Opening Weekend) – 6.37 Crores (Total Collection)

Rangoon (2017) – 14.5 Crores (Opening Weekend) – 20.68 Crores (Total Collection)

Phantom (2015) – 33.18 Crores (Opening Weekend) – 54.19 Crores (Total Collection)

Humshakals (2014) – 40.13 Crores (Opening Weekend) – 63.72 Crores (Total Collection)

So just going by these numbers we can say that things for Saif since 2014 has just gone bad to worse. His last three films we can say are not just flops but termed as disasters as these films have barely even had an opening weekend. Saif who clearly stated, his films recently have been nothing but dismals and has stuck to this 2014 film Humshakals and repeated claiming ‘it did 63 crores at the box office’. Ironically, Humshakals being his last highest grosser was a film which he had gone against at the time claiming ‘The film was a mistake. I surrendered to the director without an actual script’.url.jpg

Despite of Humshakals’s flaks, negativity and Saif going against the film the film still made the famous ’63 crores’. Saif’s unprofessional attitude of going against your own film on the opening weekend must have sent out more negativity for Saif in the industry than Humshakals had did in the papers. Producers had become a little sceptical about his involvement with any project.

Phantom (the 2015 Saif film, not the production house) was already delayed, went into production in 2013 and had numerous delays that by the time it released it was over-budget. Similarly with Rangoon, even though being backed by one of the biggest producers in the business, Sajid Nadiawala, spending 80 crores for him to sponsor the vision of Vishal Bharadwaj isnt really a financial issue for him. But when that film doesn’t make more than 21 crores as the box office, it can only spell one word, D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R!

Maybe Saif should have put his foot in his mouth during the time, or even that he was being offered nothing but medium budget films that he had to take on. The question is for Saif now – how has he changed post Sacred Games? Firstly the success has put a smile on his face a little bit of maturity in his mind, where we can say that playing the overweight police officer, which no one would have thought he would have pulled off, he truly deserves the success as Sartaj Singh.

Sadly, in Hindi Cinema when someone does something in the west this herd mentality comes in as ‘if a Brad Pitt can do it, then why can’t I?’ not understanding that actually Brad Pitt has an sustained audience in 34 different countries and Netflix is something yet to establish in India, then maybe can actually afford to do it. But one can say, it was a risk that paid off for Saif. A commercial Hindi film actor making his way to the digital side is indeed a bold step but was desperately needed.

Even though Saif has films like Hunter in the pipeline, what could say about their outcome? Firstly a possibility of these releasing directly to Netflix if the producers crack the deal, if we remember earlier this year Kaalakaandi was supposed to be a direct to digital release, but due to the ego of some cast members it had to get theatrical release (wonder who right?).


But maybe Saif has actually opened a void for the mainstream Hindi cinema actors that digital actually is a promising and possibly profitable if you are in the right project. Earlier it was an eye opener for Vivek to be a part of Inside Edge, but we can say Saif’s approach opened both eyes and ears for the digital consumer. Just his casting has brought in so much attention that no film of his has maybe since Race 2. So what Saif, another web series? Another Sartaj?

Liberation for the generation

The biggest problem we have with our Indian cinema are the Nihalani’s or Joshi’s of the censor board. The liberation of certain filmmakers gets certainly ‘cut’ where a language we use in our daily lives cannot be shown in a film because it’s not a part of our ‘culture’. Our censor board yet need to understand that Sooraj Barjatya makes one film every 10 years, Karan Johar has changed his outlook to the vision, Aditya Chopra’s last film was a sex comedy, so who is left?

Those days have gone when our soothing filmmakers would cater to the NRI audience, with their ‘thali’ and ‘sindoors’ waiting for son to arrive through the door from London because well, Ekta Kapoor killed it off. Vomit bags were even handed out to people during the screening of Rajshri’s last film, so which exactly culture are we talking about?

The youth of the nation, over the age of 18, are exposed to possibly thing that can corrupt a mind and a body. Drugs, porn, alcohol, violence (especially if you live in Punjab or Delhi), so what is exactly left? The World Wide Web and Martin Scorsese has given enough to say, ‘yes, I have seen it’, so what exactly are we not supposed to see in the cinema?

Given to the fact that the last three popular web series (Inside Edge, Breathe, Sacred Games) have exposed violence, have used bad language and of course scene of very open sexual nature. These web series have been given a certification of Adults in India, R in America and 18 to the UK audience. Which is, the way censor should work right? A child cannot access this material.

I remember years ago watching a film in the cinema called Aan – Men at Work (2004), it was certificated at PG (Parental Guidance) but one could quite obviously tell when Sunil Shetty would walk into a bar with a gun then suddenly second later he would have a second gun in his hand covered head to toe in blood in a white T-Shirt. The DVD released weeks later certificated at 18 with almost 35-40 minutes extra footage from the theatrical cut, it was basically like watching two different films.

So removing, muting, making the film half as what just really kills what actually we wanted to see the director attempting to say. But maybe things are getting better, we do get an Udta Punjab and Veere Di Wedding that have raised eyebrows but are youth really getting what they want from the cinema? Are those big commercial films still sticking to the same formats which are still use to?

Familiarity with Continuity

If something keeps us hold to a web series is the curiosity of its writing, we want to see the development of the show and such shows like Inside Edge, Breathe and Sacred Games have done that an extent where the audience is hooked by the second episode. What has already attracted us to these shows is how a Vivek is pulling off an IPL tycoon, Madhavan becoming a monster for his child and Saif saving Mumbai from the claws of Nawazuddin.

The familiarity lies within the stars. The stamp of the authorship is the faces, faces we have been familiar seeing on silver screen for years to say that maybe newer cast members would not set the authorship tag on the series. It raises an awareness when we hear that ‘Oh Sanjay Suri is also a part of the show’ it simply adds the icing to the cake.sacred-games-2.jpg

It wouldn’t also be wrong to say that even some of the newer faces in the web series have been given pad too, actors like Jitendra Joshi (Constable Katekar from Sacred Games) and Amit Sial (Devender Mishra from Inside Edge) have done commendable jobs in both shows. Especially Amit Sial, who mark my words, would be apart of the elite actors in the coming years. His performance in Inside Edge and the latest Damaged have already put this guy on the map.

But to bring to the show is the actors but the writing is the only drug that can get us addicted to the show and it’s the continuity. The continuity builds this loyal set of audience who would not fail to see the next episode in which we become familiar with the characters and would want us to continue to the extent that if the show is good.

Keeping the web series short, basing them only on 8-10 episodes is a decent attempt fpr the first season is still indeed in trial rather than the other TV shows which have 20-24 episodes per season could take out the steam of these shows. Which could have been one of the biggest reasons why Yudh failed to take off (40 episodes for the first season, so no wonder). The audience just need to take it slow to gain momentum with the show. Inside Edge had released an episode a week to build momentum for its audience, Breathe had interesting formula of first releasing 4 episodes first then releasing the other 4 episodes a month later, keeping the curiosity intact and giving it a little Hindi cinema ‘Interval’ feel to the show. Sacred Games had already built their confidence with the promotions, the views on the teaser and trailer were good enough for Netflix to make the decision of releasing all 8 episodes on one day, plus the audience had waited long enough.

Bigger Budget = Higher Footfalls?

There is nothing like for a Hindi film producer to get the reputation of his film making 100 Crore or 200 crore and to brag to the other industry members that his film has made this number, but recently a critic had mentioned that a very good web series with a very good engagement could actually be like 100-150 crore grosser at the box office. But do this kind of number exist now for the web series?

The most comfortable part of the web series factor is that it’s being backed by a Amazon Prime and Netflix who may not produce these shows but certainly can promise footfalls for the producers. Encouraging the producers of making their shows bigger by the scale day by day, we can say that the content and writing is better when the production value is increasing.


Many have criticised that the Hindi market does lack decent writers, it could be that our Hindi films have always been made in a certain formula that in which we becomes fixed way of writing. Writers since the 90s who have got so use to writing ‘Interval card’ or ‘song placement here’ in the Hindi commercial screenplays. But we can say a new brigade of young writers are coming to the forefront who are understanding the format for what is needed to make a web series that clicks with the audience.

It seems the current favourite genre with the Indian web series currently is the thriller genre (Inside Edge, Breathe, Sacred Games), it could also be that the ‘slice of life’ genre web series that are available on TVF or Voot are getting numbers but in minimal. But the thriller genre from India is giving the audience the big screen medium at a streaming format, hence the attraction.

Not only stars have come on board but even the content are becoming ‘cinema-like’ (Breathe and Sacred Games were originally planned as big screen ventures). So we could say the big screen, larger than life canvas is becoming successful for web series and we know we will see more of this kind of material in the future.

So happens next?

There are various projects lined up in which Netflix and Amazon Prime have proudly signed on with various different producers. We will get to see some great directors making their web series debuts (lets say, a little birdy had told me) Deepa Mehta, Kabir Khan, Homi Adajania, Bejoy Nambair, Rohan Sippy etc just to name a few have currently signed on projects or are currently in talks.

We will get to see a lot of seasoned actors also making their way to Web Series by at least by 2019, in which are lot are in talks, preparing or even shooting these shows currently. Actors such as Irfan Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Sharman Joshi, Anupam Kher, Annu Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur etc as well as seeing some of the newer talent like Kunal Kapoor, Arunoday Singh, Amyra Dastur, Isha Talwar etc.

Not every web series can be Sacred Games, Inside Edge or a Breathe some can also become a Bose: Dead/Alive where despite the great reviews and anticipation by the media it didn’t find many takers. Possibly the period dramas have not found an audience yet or even the existing audience did not paved a path for it, who knows.

But we can certainly say, the future is looking bright for the Web Series. And let me just tell you guys, the little birdy also has told me that some the best writers we have had over years, the writers from the new wave of Hindi cinema, some of them have shifted to the web series side. So lets hope and lets watch this space!

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