Sushmita Sen, Kartik Aaryan, Abhishek Bachchan, Bobby Deol… the one thing that all these actors have in common is a dramatic change in the kind of roles they played on their foray into the OTT world. With the boom of the digital space amid the pandemic, the platform has given a chance to break away from their conventional images as reinvention turned out to be the winning formula.
If Sen took the role of a vindictive widow in Aarya, then Bachchan explored shades of grey with Breathe: Into the Shadows. Similarly, Aaryan also broke away from his lover boy image for Dhamaka. There’s also Bobby Deol in Ashram, Kunal Kapoor and Dino Morea in The Empire, and Raveena Tandon’s upcoming avatar in Aranyak series.
“The one thing that OTT platforms are getting right is that they have placed content as more important than anything else. So, the casting follows the story, a star or star image does not dictate the story, as it happens very often in movies,” shares writer Bhavani Iyer, who has penned scripts for Kaafir, Breathe: Into the Shadows and The Empire.
She continues, “You write the show first, and then you get the actor. It also allows the actor’s greater joy to experiment. Because the role is not written to an image, it is written for the character. It allows them to experiment and to follow the authenticity of the character that is written. That is what is helping the actors”.
Morea, whose portrayal of Shaybani Khan in The Empire garnered much praise, is grateful about it. “The writing is really fantastic with some brilliant characters… My role in The Empire gave me a chance to reinvent myself, not just me, but many other actors a chance to reinvent and for their fans and the audiences to see them in just different light from what they usually see them in,” Morea shares.
To this, Deol adds, “OTT platforms is the best thing that has happened to us. It has greater reach and purely focuses on the entertainment value of a project. It has given me an opportunity to play different characters, and I am looking forward to playing more different characters”.
OTT has also given viewers a chance to discover the acting chops of stars who were only known for their appearances. Iyer picks up an example of actor Dia Mirza in her show Kaafir, and explains, “It gave her such a wonderful opportunity to express herself, show her performance and talent, which until now, for the longest time, was just limited to being all about good looks and the image that she had. It was just because the character was written first and then the actor was brought on”.
Actor Abhishek Banerjee, who has been winning the OTT game with his diverse roles from Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok to his character in Ajeeb Daastaans, calls it a game changer for all.
“It has been the biggest game changer in the last few years. By that, I mean it has really given a lot of people a second chance in their career. A platform to those who are looking to explore beyond the kind of stories they are already making,” he says, adding, “For me, it was like a dream”.
“After my three big movies, which are all comedies, I was getting only comic offers. I was worried about my career because I wanted to tell the directors that ‘I can do much more than just be a funny guy, or a funny friend’. OTT gave me that opportunity. Now, I am experimenting with my craft. I’m doing different characters. Thank God for this wave of reinvention in the OTT playground,” he shares.
Wrapping up, Asur co-creator Gaurav Shukla mentions that the absence of the usual Bollywood trappings help writers as well as actor take the road less taken. “There are no commercial pressure of the box office. The medium is less demanding, with the writer and actor getting freedom to explore new avenues, and do little experimentation, like Arshad Warsi did with the show,” he says.