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Web of opportunities

Catching up with those involved with a new facet of the Pakistani entertainment industry online, web series

Web of opportunities

Web-series after having been in the making for almost three decades now in the west were introduced in our part of the world recently only through Indian chartbusters. Production houses like Yash Raj Films have also founded subsidiary companies focusing on churning out digital content, one series at a time. It has also provided emerging talents like the brains behind The Viral Fever (TVF) a forum to express their perspective of art.

As influenced as our industry is when it comes to cinema, Pakistan also seeks inspiration from across the border for initiating cyberspace as a mainstream medium against the silver and the small screens.

After having delivered a number of conventional television outings, Abdullah Seja producer and founder of iDreams Entertainment has decided to experiment by launching a forthcoming web-series that narrates the journey of four modern women who are against arranged marriages. “Some things need to be made for the future, and somebody has to do it. You never know, somewhere down the line we might have our own Netflix. It’s a sure shot gamble, but we’ll reach there within a decade,” he begins on a rather hopeful note.

While Seja is known to have cast only familiar faces in his television outings, he intends upon introducing new blood with his next, and not only in front of the camera. “Osman Khalid Butt, I feel, is the greatest example. He started off by putting up videos only on YouTube. My goal is to bring something fresh on the table, in every department. I don’t wish to follow the path that’s been tried and tested. Not only do we have a new cast, but also a new director, DOP (cinematographer) and even the editor!”

Monetising on YouTube for now, in Pakistan, seems like a distant possibility for producers and that only adds to the plethora of risks one may take before investing in an avenue that is yet to find its own niche. “We’re not evolving at the pace we should be, I came across a couple of web-series when I was looking for content on TV, and it really appealed to me because I feel there’s a lot that can be done on the web,” Seja observes. “The market on web isn’t limited. I want to cater to a bilingual audience — anybody who has a phone, gets stuck in traffic or is bored.”

Internet’s most enduring quality is that it’s honest, and fortunately (or unfortunately) unapologetic. It has given keyboard warriors the strength to create Qandeel Baloch or Nasir Khan Jan, but remains a democratic platform — where the audience chooses.

And when one speaks of limitations in terms of content and censors, the web doesn’t bound actors either. Writer and actor, Yasir Hussain has just recently wound up shooting for short-film director Bilawal Abbasi’s web-series, Kaala Bichoo. “Everything is now on the internet. A lot of people tell me that they’ve seen my drama on YouTube. So I feel that’s where everyone’s headed,” he points out. “You can also highlight a lot of topics that haven’t really been addressed and I don’t only mean social issues. People don’t try a lot of things on TV; here we have a platform to explore.”

Kaala Bichoo is all about emotions and sheds light upon something that exists in our society, it’s very human, and hence, it caters to everyone,” he added of the target audience. “A lot of people in Pakistan, especially the younger generation turns to the west because we don’t have ‘series’ on television and we need that. You see even though films have been shortened from three to two hours, they still seem dragged, over the years, our attention span has lessened, and for that temperament, web-series are ideal.”

Hussain’s Kaala Bichoo co-star and award-winning model, Amna Ilyas, saw web as a dynamic programme, with innovative content. “When Bilal narrated the story to me, I really liked the character. It wasn’t something I took up consciously or vice versa. I’ve kept a balance between commercial and parallel cinema, television and now the web too,” she observes.

Discussing matters of destiny, Ilyas seemed optimistic. “I feel web-series are like online shopping. Five years back, there was no concept of that and now people are minting money just by running websites. I feel that’s the future,” Ilyas maintained. “The internet is more accessible, yet at the same time I didn’t feel like I was shooting for a web-series; it has a cinematic vision. It’s also really fast-paced unlike drama serials; it’s very chilled-out, relatable and relaxed. I’m sick of this fake image of our people; I don’t want to do that anymore.”

“I feel the future should always remain films,” actor, writer and protagonist of Indian web-series, Alisha, Lianne Texeira tells TNS. “However, you watch films to escape and watch something that’s a little off, you pay to see stars like Salman or Katrina, so when you need to relate to something on-screen or feel closer to home, web-series do the job. They’re doing quite well, but I don’t know how long it will last,” she adds with a hint of doubt.

Texeira is currently busy writing another web-series and working on the pre-production of Alisha’s second season. “The brains behind the content that comes out on the web are not bound to please any producers or brands. When I was writing Alisha, I didn’t have rules or regulations to go by,” she says of the edge that web has over other mediums of art. “So there’s a lot of freedom in that aspect, though honestly, I would always want to create art that is watched without interruption.”

And despite having built a career as an artist out of digital entertainment, she is not mighty pleased about the way things are shaping up. “Since it’s a lot easier for people to put up a video on the web, mediocre content will eventually be appreciated and the quality would deteriorate, it takes a lot more effort to helm a film, but with content available online, people have started becoming extra-opinionated and judgmental. A film won’t remain special anymore,” she expressed.

Internet’s most enduring quality is that it’s honest, and fortunately (or unfortunately) unapologetic. It has given keyboard warriors the strength to create Qandeel Baloch or Nasir Khan Jan, but remains a democratic platform — where the audience chooses.

Hopefully, with the introduction of intellectually superior scripts and production values, web series might just take Pakistan by storm (this time around, possibly, for the better).

Ahmed Sarym

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