Anirban Roy Choudhury

“It is exciting to index your work against the best out there and see how you fare”: Neeraj Pandey

The director of ‘A Wednesday’, ‘Special 26’, and ‘Baby’ talks about the different challenges involved in creating a film and a series.

In January, National Award-winning director Kabir Khan’s ‘The Forgotten Army’ was released by Amazon Prime Video on its streaming platform. Prime Video India said it was their ‘magnum opus’. Later in March, Hotstar, which is now a part of The Walt Disney Company, will stream espionage thriller ‘Special Ops’. For them, it is their ‘magnum opus’. There are more high-decibel, star-studded releases lined up by the likes of ZEE5, VOOT, Netflix, ALTBalaji and other video on demand platforms.

If Khan was Amazon’s bet then Neeraj Pandey is Hotstar’s. It is becoming increasingly evident that the streaming platforms will only invest big in something if it has a “tried and tested” showrunner - a term that has started gaining popularity in India only recently. Pandey made his directorial debut with the Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher-starrer suspense thriller ‘A Wednesday’. He then went on to make ‘Special 26’, ‘Baby’, and many other successful titles.

‘Special Ops’ is an espionage thriller that Pandey has linked with the 2001 Parliament attack. The eight-episode series stars KK Menon and Divya Dutta.

In an interview with afaqs!, Pandey talks about the different challenges involved in creating a film and a series.Edited excerpts:

You have written and directed many successful feature films, how was making a series different?

The writing becomes very different because you are dealing with longer, bigger material. It is about seven hours of content. The directing bit –there’s absolutely no difference. We still want to tell the story in the most effective manner and the format does not change that. While making a film or a series, every process is equally important and we cannot be complacent at any point.

Apart from the length, what else is different when it comes to an episode?

We were three writers who wrote ‘Special Ops’, and it was for the first time I was working with two different writers. It was enriching because it was a long story and it helps if you have more people. It is a more collaborative effort than films, which is more individualistic in nature.

You have been a writer, director, producer before, but with ‘Special Ops’, you are also the showrunner. Is it a different responsibility altogether?

(Chuckles) Frankly speaking, I have been running shows all my life. We have been writing, directing and producing from our very first film.We are doing the same thing here, too. It so happens that the term showrunner has just become popular.

Also Read: “An OTT series is like shooting a film”: Ritesh Sidhwani

While making a series, how important is it to end an episode in a manner that the audience goes on to the next? Similarly, how important is it to end a season in a way that the viewers wait for the sequel?

You only watch the second episode because of the ending of the first. It is a part of the storytelling and it becomes paramount that you end the story at a point where people would like to come back to it. When it comes to seasons, we don't think about multiple seasons while conceptualising the series. For this one, we just thought of doing one season. However, ‘Special Ops’ brand is such that we can easily extend it to something else and go into multiple seasons.

You have an idea about the audience you make a film for. Who, or what kind of audiences, according to you, watch series in India?

There is a whole new crop of audiences, a new generation that is waiting to watch something interesting, and they have got nothing to do with the legacy of the past films that a filmmaker would have worked on. This is also the audience that is more exposed to good material from all around the world. They are aware of what Netflix and Amazon is throwing up in this genre, and quality stuff from all around the world. It is exciting to index your work against the best out there and see how you fare.

Also Read: Creator of Amazon Prime's Inside Edge on the inside story...

How are the challenges you face while making a film different from what you encountered while creating ‘Special Ops’?

Production-wise, it becomes a challenge, ‘Special Ops’, for example, is set all over the world, all over the place. While co-director Shivam was handling one part of the shooting, I was handling the other. We both are two different individuals, his style is different, while I have my own style... Two filmmakers collaborating, and then being so pitch-perfect, to ensure that nothing changes is a big challenge. The viewer should not get the impression that it has been directed by two different people. I think we have achieved it.

When it is a collaborative effort, does the buck stop at you or is it the platform that takes the final call?

It's collaborative, it is not that there is anarchy over there, or it is so autocratic. It is a collaborative effort from the team members. So, if someone does not feel that something is right, he voices it, and that is how it works

We have just started making ‘series’ in India, what is your observation on what we have created so far?

We are doing fine and the more we see, the more we learn and as the medium gets a little older, we will do better. We have done mini-series on television before, so it is not true that we have never done it. Yes, it was a long time back, but there are examples like 'Tamas', which was directed by Govind Nihalani. It was a mini-series. Somehow, we have not continued that trend and now it's going to come back with the digital medium.

Also Read: "We really aimed for a killer pilot": Vikramaditya Motwane on Sacred Games

Do you see enough writers who have the capabilities and are willing to write episodes?

Any writer, if he or she is interested in exploring different formats, will jump at this opportunity, simply because there are so many stories that you will never be able to convert into a film. You will need time, sort of a longish medium. If we are doing eight episodes with ‘Special Ops’,it is because the story needs that much time. I won't be able to make ‘Special Ops’ as a film. If a writer is ‘fixed’ (determined) that he is only going to write films then you cannot force that writer. It is about being in his comfort zone, or stepping out of his comfort zone for the writer.

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