Meet the team behind Blacksheep’s PenQueen series that shows women’s challenges at work

Spanning over 15 to 20 minutes, each episode in the PenQueen series aims to deconstruct myths around women in different professions.
Nandhini in an episode from Blacksheep's PenQueen
Nandhini in an episode from Blacksheep's PenQueen
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The protagonist, a lead saleswoman in an apparel store, Nandhini, is courteous, polite, and convincing, even if her superior makes her overwork. But towards the end of the first episode, we see her stand up for a colleague. Reprimanding a customer for her condescending tone, Nandhini says, “It is not sympathy that we expect from you, but respect.” In another episode, we see her as the owner of a thallu vandi (food cart). She stands her ground against odds and when she is mocked for wanting to open a restaurant. These videos featuring actor Nandhini are part of PenQueen, a series started by Tamil YouTube channel Blacksheep, to deconstruct myths around women in different professions.

Blacksheep, which is well-known for its funny and light sketches, aired the first episode in February. The team has released a total of seven episodes since then. Spanning 15 to 20 minutes, each episode delves into the everyday sexism, discrimination, and challenges women in different professions face. So far, the episodes have tracked the lives of a housewife, nurse, receptionist, news anchor, salesperson, sanitary worker, and owner of a small eatery titled Akka Kadai. Nandhini, who appears in the lead in all of these episodes, is seen along with actor Monisha, who has also appeared in other video series produced by Blacksheep.

Speaking to TNM, the director Midhun RG shares the inspiration behind Blacksheep. “The channel had done videos about the lives of watchmen and people from other professions earlier. That gave us the idea for this concept.”

Positive responses

The PenQueen series has opened to positive responses, with the second episode highlighting the casual sexism faced by homemakers garnering over 70 lakh views on YouTube. Many viewers have applauded Nandhini for her subtle yet expressive style of acting. “Right from the conceptualisation stage, we wanted to rope her in for this since she was part of a research-driven series called Ival that spoke about the struggles faced by transgender persons, single parents, sex workers, etc.,” says Midhun.

Speaking about her role, Nandhini says that she jumped at the opportunity since she believes YouTubers or people in any media industry have the responsibility of both entertaining and educating audiences. “YouTube videos have varied audiences – from children to the elderly. We wanted to ensure that the message is efficiently conveyed through the series,” she says.

The videos from the series have not only persuaded people to start a discourse around gender disparity at workplaces and homes but have also struck a chord with many from the professions portrayed in the videos. “As a receptionist, I also handle the same situation every day. It's not an easy job,” reads a comment from a viewer on YouTube. Another user wrote about the episode on nurses: “This is actually the true- life (sic) story of all the nurses. I am really proud to be a nurse.”

Intensive research

The Blacksheep team says that the PenQueen series took substantially more research than their other series. Sangeethaa Valavan, who is on board as the co-writer, says that they spoke to over 50 women in each of the professions featured in the episodes before they developed a script and screenplay. “The production team of Blacksheep also helps us find contacts. We try to go and meet them in person, spend time with them, and hear their stories. The idea is to get insights from as many professionals as possible,” says Sangeetha.

Illustrating how the research has given them more clarity to write, Sangeethaa shares that the seventh episode which discusses women in media was initially a 15-minute-long one, focusing only on the women newsreaders. But as the team started speaking to more people, they felt that its scope could be widened. “Even within the media, there is so much difference between each role. In the seventh episode, Monisha is seen as a new news anchor who gets body-shamed by her male co- anchor while everyone around is seen laughing at his sexist jokes. On the other hand, we see Nandhini as an experienced newsreader who goes through more scrutiny than her male colleagues. The climax of the episode, where the news anchor reads out the news about the demise of her husband in an accident, is also inspired by true events,” Sangeethaa says.

Going with the flow

The eight-member team- which includes editor Gowtham, music composer Unni Krishanan, DOP Ashwin Chandrasekar, assistant DOP Sampath and assistant director Shashank, apart from Sangeethaa, Midhun and Nandhini- is not very rigid when it comes to members’ roles and responsibilities. For instance, the shooting for the ‘Akka Kadai’ episode attracted crowds. He says that because everyone is involved in the process, the Assistant Directors did not think twice before jumping in to take care of crowd control.

Similarly, he adds that Nandhini takes the effort to do her own research about the clothing. Among the responses the team has received from viewers, are also remarks about how the clothes worn by Nandhini aptly complement the characters she plays. “Since these episodes are about people we meet on a daily basis, I like to observe them. Then, I work closely with Sangeethaa to pick the character’s outfits. For instance, people often assume that sanitary workers are not tidy, but in the video, we show how it is untrue,” Nandhini observes.

Sangeethaa explains that everyone is involved in all phases of production. “We had both women and men weighing in on what they thought about the storyline. It led to good interactions,” she says. Nandhini adds that it made the team more accommodative and receptive to each other’s ideas. “We just go with the flow,” says Nandhini.

Overwhelmed by the affirming feedback and attention for PenQueen, Midhun and Nandhini say that they would like to continue producing more episodes in this series, while also keeping an eye out for similar projects in future. Nandhini shares that she started out as a director and would like to do that more. Midhun also adds that he’d like to foray into the silver screen as a director. 

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