The web series platform is offering women directors and artistes opportunities to break free

Free of Telugu cinemas constraints these women are breaking moulds through web series
Flix Tollywood Friday, June 22, 2018 - 19:48

In a territory dominated by testosterone-driven potboilers, the Telugu audience have something new on offer: the coming-of-age web series. What adds greater zest to these ‘girl-next-door’ web flicks are the women donning many hats behind and on the screen, increasingly capturing the online space and shattering many stereotypes that the regional film industries have set for eons.

Creating the ‘everyday woman’

For Jahnavi Dasetty, a NIFT student from Kurnool, acting was always a passion. After a couple of short-film stints, Jahnavi got her first break through Mahathalli-Mahanubhavudu (produced by Wirally South) that instantly hit a chord with the audience. The web series reflects reality laced with humour, and Jahnavi in Mahathalli dons the many hats of a script-writer, director and an actor.

“My parents were initially unhappy with the decision. But now, as Mahathalli has become a household name, they appreciate the progress,” Jahnavi says.

For Jahnavi, the characters in Mahathalli (now a YouTube channel run by Wirally) are the women you meet in your everyday life. “While working forMahathalli-Mahanubhavudu, I always dreamt of making a Tollywood version of the Superwoman. Only after a year into the production of Mahathallidid I realise that Mahathalli in Telugu means ‘superwoman’,"Jahnavi confesses.

Jahnavi Dasetty

The web series medium has created a splash by depicting strong women characters, especially for an audience which has been bombarded with doe-eyed bahus in designer sarees, struggling against evil relatives in logic-defying plot twists.

“Web series give writers the time and space to convey ideas with greater ease. For example, Seshamma from Posh Poris, was crafted with so much detail that for Aditi Myakal, who played the role, Seshamma has become a second identity,” says Gautami Challagula, who has cemented her position as a web-series specialist with Posh Poris, Social and Manna Muguri Love Story. 

“Women share very special bonds in their personal lives which rarely get depicted on screen. So, my girl-gangs are women who are like men in Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara and Dil Chahta Hain - they share a buddy-comical relationship," she adds.

Gautami Challagula

After her seven-year stint in an IT company, Gautami pursued her post-graduation in Communication. Her final year thesis focused on woman-relationships portrayed on screen.

“Until the 2000s, Telugu films like Ladies Special, SwarnakamalamNinne Pelledata had women who conversed about their everyday struggles. But of late, there are very few movies that pass the Bechdel test,” Gautami points out.

Sketching characters

Though popular comedy sketch group channels like the All India Bhakchod (AIB) and The Viral Fever (TVF) proclaim themselves to be pro-women and feminist, an analysis of their online content shows minimal portrayal of women characters on-screen. Women are confined to the role of a homemaker or a crazy colleague among ten other male characters.

“The onus to create strong women characters lies with the script writers and they are often men. Web series have managed to create a positive stride with a lot of women working on and behind the screens,” says Sri Vidya, who is part of the all-girls channel ‘Girl Formula’ on the online entertainment content provider, Chai Bisket. Girls Formula was born after the girl-gang made a video Naa Saavu Nenu Chasta - a girl’s version of an already existing video on Chai Bisket. And, with the success of the video, the idea of an all-girls channel that would break women-related taboos was born.

“In Hindi, we have very bold content on women being produced and the audience is also quite receptive. But while doing videos in regional languages, one must keep in mind the sensibilities of our audience,” Sri Vidya says.

Sri Vidya

The challenges

Though web series give directors greater freedom, the challenge to gain attention is bigger compared to movies.

“People often watch online content in their personal spaces unlike movies which give them a collective experience. With the legion of content available online, the task to capture people’s attention within the first 5 minutes into a video is quite a challenge," says Nandini Reddy, writer and creative head of Gangstars, Amazon Primes’s first Telugu web series. With a star cast of Navdeep, Shweta Basu Prasad and Sidhu Jonnalagadda, the series had opened to positive reviews.

Nandini Reddy

Nandini Reddy, who also has critically acclaimed movies like Ala Modalaindi and Kalyana Vaibhogame to her credit, does not believe in creating content to preach.

“Content makers are not perfect human beings with morals to preach to their audiences. Online content has made a distinction with its raw portrayal of flawed humans, people with whom the viewers can identify,” she says.

Creating content online comes with the additional baggage of haters, and it's the women artistes who are often at the receiving end of such abusive comments.

“Though a lot of viewers drop in congratulatory notes and positive feedback, body-shaming is an issue that every woman faces on-screen. Its demoralising despite the change in notions we try conveying on-screen,” says Jahnavi Dasetty.

The flexibility to explore

One of the many advantages of web series over movies is the absence of a censor board, says Nandini Reddy.

Lust Stories, a Netflix original that explores women’s sexuality, would have been shelved if it was to pass off as a movie. Web series also attract investors who experiment with novel content, being assured of decent returns under a minimum budget," she adds.

But for Jahnavi Dasetty, a watch over the language is necessary as a lot of regional web content is also consumed by children. “Mahathalli has a wide audience that includes homemakers, senior citizens and children as well. Humour doesn’t necessarily require vulgar language,” Jahanvi opines.

“Web series will eventually find a bigger market and can generate more revenue than their television counterparts. Maybe then, the latter medium will start thinking about reinventing itself,” says Gautami.

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