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Love stories are almost synonymous with magnum opus feature films that Bollywood has offered, in generous doses, over many decades. But in recent years, while the film industry has dabbled with more ambitious genres, there has also been an evolution of the classic Bollywood-ified love story, akin to “boy meets girl” or the “happily-ever-afters”.
In the last decade, films like Margarita with a Straw (2014), Manmarziyaan (2018) and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019), lurking in the greyer areas of romantic escapades, have attempted to challenge the boundaries of the romantic genre on silver screen. However, it is without a doubt, the influx of OTT platforms and boundless new formats that have enabled filmmakers to shift away from the age-old portrayal of love.
Portraying more ‘real’ and complex stories, under the emotional umbrella of romance, Ankahi Kahaniya, a latest anthology that recently hit the Netflix screens, is not your typical love story. The three-part anthology, directed by the likes of Abhishek Chaubey, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Saket Chaudhary, who’ve each delivered critically acclaimed films, treads the uncharted territories of the most cherished emotion on screen.
“Typically every love story has to be that grand love affair, the most important love affair of an individual’s life. But in Ankahi Kahaniya, these are the quiet corners in the character’s life experiences that you don’t ever talk about. And although they lie in one corner of their life, they are as important as the grand moments,” says the Sonchiriya director Abhishek Chaubey.
“There are certain kinds of love stories that we are programmed to watch. In these films, you’re completely free of that, you’re talking about those stories, which you’ve heard less of or seen less of,” he adds.
The Netflix web series that stars Abhishek Banerjee, Rinku Rajguru, Delzad Hiwale, Zoya Hussain, Palomi Ghosh, Kunal Kapoor and Nikhil Dwivedi in the three parts, brings the peripheries of their respective characters’ life in focus — the peripheries that carry the burden of emotional baggages but seldom get centrestage.
“I feel that life is all about emotions, and a lot of unsaid emotions that you keep to yourself. And in due course of time, these emotions become a dumping ground in your heart, almost like garbage, which eventually will start impacting you in some way. That’s basically the whole premise of Ankahi Kahaniya, to tap into stored emotions,” says Tiwari, who came up with the title of the series.
“When you get into a relationship, you realise there are so many things about yourself that you hide from your partner or you want to tell them, but you don’t. And these secrets go into resentments, which you will never share with them,” says the Hindi Medium director Saket Chaudhary. “And suddenly, when you meet a stranger, you tell them everything,” he further added.
Marking the OTT debuts for Tiwari and Chaudhary, Ankahi Kahaniya is the three directors’ unique takes on tales of love, loss and longing in a manner that lends itself more appropriately to the shorter format of storytelling offered by digital platforms like Netflix. “Most filmmakers say that they always start with a short film, just to get a taste of it but I never did that,” says Chaubey, who recently directed a story in Ray, another Netflix anthology.
“When I was making my first feature film, I felt like an imposter because I had no experience as a director. So, I was itching to make a short film,” he further adds. Pointing to the creative freedom offered by the digital space, the Udta Punjab director also mentions how “OTT platforms are giving the opportunity to mainstream filmmakers to express themselves in a shorter format”.
But what distinguishes the creative freedom afforded by the digital space as opposed to the one offered by the silver screen? “When you’re making a short film, the number of characters you’re dealing with, as a director, may be far lesser than what you would have in a feature film,” says the Bareilly Ki Barfi director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari.
While short stories are more about the “punch-line endings” and “twists”, full-fledged feature films may pay more heed to the character’s journey, mentions Chaubey. “Feature films can be about the twist, but the journey is much longer as opposed to an episodic format, which is a beast unto itself. The challenge here is to convey a similar journey in a shorter time span,” adds the Ishqiya director.
The key distinguisher, though, is the viewing experience in itself, as opposed to the storytelling, according to Chaudhary. “When a feature film releases on the big screen, it’s a very communal experience. There are the big highs, you expect the audience to have this big laugh or a big tragic moment. But with short films, as anthologies, they’re a lot more intimate.”
Private viewing also allows the audiences to indulge in a discourse while simultaneously watching a particular show or a film, which is distinctly different to the collective viewing theatre experience, he adds.
Conceived before the onset of the pandemic, the fundamental longing for human connection forms the main premise of Ankahi Kahaniya. However, with the backdrop of social distancing, isolation and loss of human connection and lives over the past two years, the anthology may strike a whole different chord with the audiences, given the context.
“The time in which a story comes out is always pivotal to how it’s perceived and received by the audiences,” says the Nil Battey Sannata director, Tiwari, adding that the pandemic will play a huge role in how Ankahi Kahaniya gets consumed.
“What people will make of this is going to be heavily impacted by the experience that everybody has gone through. People’s outlook towards life has completely changed. But I think this anthology has come at a very opportune time,” adds Chaubey.
As the pandemic has reinterpreted relationships, Chaudhary also mentions that “People’s concept of love has now evolved, how we understand relationships, the fragility of it, the human connection — it could all go away in a sudden event,” he points out.
So, who knows? Perhaps, the increased emotional sensitivities surrounding the realities of our time may enhance the consumption of more subtle, intimate feelings — similar to the ones pointed out by the director-trio — feelings that are known to thrive in the OTT ecosystem.
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