Entertainment

PS Zindagi reconfiguring Nepali entertainment

  • The sitcom is less about the content and aesthetic of a show and more about the fresh ground it has broken as a challenge to conventional media formats
- Kurchi Dasgupta, Kathmandu
Directed by Utpal Jha, the first two episodes meander through the residual tremors and lives of a group of urban Nepali youth played suavely by himself, Rajkumar Pudasaini, Kavita Srinivasan, Sujata Koirala and Kalsang Lama

May 15, 2016-April 25 saw the release of Nepal’s first web series or online sitcom, the wittily titled PS Zindagi (PS stands for Post-Seismic) by Musumusu TV. 

The release date is significant, as is the title, for it refers back to the earthquakes that shook up the country exactly a year ago and whose fallout we are yet to recover from. 

I have watched two of its episodes online and find that the project intrigues me. But this essay is less about the content and aesthetic of PS Zindagi and more about the fresh ground it has broken as a challenge to conventional media formats. It is also about whether the Internet is indeed reconfiguring our tastes when it comes to entertainment.

As I watched the first episode, I kept trying to put my finger on what exactly was it that differentiates a web series from a television series. Of course the mode of distribution—Internet versus television networks—is an obvious answer. And the most basic definition of a web series does go as ‘a serialised entertainment delivered via an Internet platform’.But then the next obvious question would be, does the mode influence a production’s content and form?  I am inclined to say yes.

Virginia Heffernan has pointed out, ‘the Internet has a logic, a tempo, an idiom, a colour scheme, a politics and an emotional sensibility all its own’. Does a narrative for the web have a different pace and rhythm after all? We keep encountering films and television shows that are repackaged and released as web series or web series that are reedited to turn into bestselling films internationally. And yet, as I watched PS Zindagi, it was very apparent that what we expect of exclusive Internet entertainment is somewhat different from our expectations of more conventional media. Ideally, an online web series is accessed by a lone individual on a desktop or laptop or smartphone as opposed to a family or friends group in front of a television. This immediately changes the kind of content you can put up for viewing—for example, the very first episode of PS Zindagi can afford to try and negotiate the taboo issue of watching porn in a middle class setting.  With rising Internet accessibility and lack of regulations in Nepal, this surely touches upon a very relevant aspect of life for the younger generation (and no doubt some of the older too). A target family audience might have reacted very adversely to a ‘good girl’ caught in the act, but a web series meant for individual, online viewing can do so with ease. Which means that a lot of unfair, cultural taboos and restrictions can perhaps be re-negotiated in Nepal now and more forcefully so. And the audience be sensitised to the possibility of change. The everyday issues addressed in PS Zindagi, revolving around the lives of five youth coming from diverse backgrounds, are as real as the recurrent earthquake tremors in the series. 

Kavita Srinivasan, who ideated and scripted the show, has done a commendable job, especially as a debutante producer. Directed by Utpal Jha, the first two episodes meander through the residual tremors and lives of a group of urban Nepali youth played suavely by himself, Rajkumar Pudasaini, Kavita Srinivasan, Sujata Koirala and Kalsang Lama.  Srinivasan and Koirala take on the roles of a young, Muslim  sister duo in search of their dreams with panache. Rajkumar Pudasaini is at his hilarious best and comes across as the show’s real star with his fluid screen presence. The camera lingers too often and too long on Jha to allow him the mystery and halo of a romantic hero that he obviously craves. One wonders how and whether his character will develop as the show unfolds. Lama, am guessing, is the mysterious young lady, who manages to keep her face hidden—the scripting of her role is impeccable. We need to be allowed to watch more to evaluate her acting though. The cinematography improves with each episode, as does the pacing. The show has a certain raw relevance and immediacy of content that differentiates it from bigger budget television productions. It alternates between slowing down to an amateur, home video mode and picking up right away for a perfectly timed moment of dramatic tension. The quirky pacing no doubt is a leeway that on-demand individual viewing allows. The fact that the world is moving from group escapism (eg watching TV during ‘family time’) to individual escapism (eg watching content alone) may not be a bad thing after all. Not only does this increase content consumption, individual on-demand viewing necessarily changes the nature and form of the content as well. 

Around 62 percent of YouTube content is short. This, ‘has created a huge opportunity for storytelling to be optimised from a story point of view. And not its length. While earlier, content was created to suit appointment viewing, and was therefore created in multiples of 30 minutes, with the advent of on-demand viewing, this parameter is no longer required. Short form and snackable content is primarily driving the growth…’ For episodic narratives, especially sitcoms, this comes as a boon. Unlike soaps that have plotlines spread across multiple episodes, sitcoms should ideally work out plot situations within the length of a single episode. PS Zindagi uses this opportunity to its advantage and has been putting out episodes of variable length. Such flexibility also allows the producers to work around budget constraints. 

And that of course brings us to the most interesting aspect of online shows  or web series, their extraordinary gesture of overturning mass media models of production and driving 21st century entertainment into a more democratic and participatory realm. And more importantly, whether online shows have an actual relevance in terms of a target audience in a country where a mere 13.3 percent of the population accesses Internet and just. Seventy-five percent of them uses fixed-line broadband subscription. Not bad really given the fact that India has only 1.16 percent of its users with broadband connections . But more on that soon!

 

 

Published: 15-05-2016 09:21

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