#CosmoBinge: The makers of 'Kohrra', 'Kaala Paani', and 'Asur' talk about what the future of Indian OTT will be

Lesser shows, but better shows will be the way to go for leading streaming giants.

06 July, 2024
#CosmoBinge: The makers of 'Kohrra', 'Kaala Paani', and 'Asur' talk about what the future of Indian OTT will be

What do Kohrra, Kaala Paani, and Asur, three very popular shows in the Indian OTT space, have in common? They present us with a reality within society that we cannot escape from. Sameera Saxena, the showrunner, director, and producer of the Netflix series Kaala Paani, conceived the concept much before Covid entered our dictionary. Gaurav Shukla, on the other hand, combined elements of crime, mythology, and astrology into a gripping series that is Asur, delivering a show that kept the audience on the edge of their seat. And then there was Kohrra, by Randeep Jha, which was raw and unsettling, but a necessary truth that stared us in the face.

As part of the #CosmoBinge series, which highlights the minds behind six of India’s most popular web series, Saxena, Jha, and Shukla talk to Cosmopolitan India about what makes their shows stand out, their fascination with dark but realistic themes, their approach to season finales, and more. 

Show that are dark but still captivate 

As previously mentioned, the common thread between the three shows is that each of them reflects a dark reality that doesn’t feel unrealistic, even for a second. When asked about it, Jha, who also directed the Netflix series, Trial By Fire, reveals, “I normally react to the writing and the mood. Each piece of writing belongs to a different but specific world. Kohrra wouldn’t be the show it is, had it been written differently. Understanding this aspect and executing it shouldn’t feel forced. If it feels forced to me, the audience will feel the same way too. If the situation is such, things will be dark. We can’t have it any way else.”

The aspect of the viewer finding the content relatable is one that Shukla attests to, as well, “Be it a historical one or something futuristic, the content should have some value for the audience. While there are lessons to be learnt from either of the two, the common denominator is that they should be relatable. That’s the very first parameter when you’re making something for people to watch.”

Conceptualising a show on a pandemic before reality struck

One of the major takeaways from the interview was Saxena revealing that he conceptualised Kaala Paani prior to the events of 2020 and the year that followed. “The seed of the thought came much before the pandemic. We were shocked when it happened for real because that’s exactly what we were thinking. We thought about the concept, the world because we were excited by the thought of people being trapped because of a disease.”

That said, the pandemic was an eye-opener for Saxena in terms of how the show was written and positioned. “We became aware of the fact that we shouldn't exploit the situation and made sure that we made it a story of hope and survival. You’d (either) see only one death scene in the entire show, and that would be at the very beginning, or the death wasn’t shown at all.”

What is the future of Indian OTT? 

Having each made a show that won’t just be seen in the year that they were made, but to this very day, and beyond, the trio sure know that what has worked for them might stand to change years down the line. They cast their eye towards what lies ahead and talk about what the Indian web series space going to be. “I want people to create shows that they believe in, and not just what the audience wants. When people write and think with the audience in mind, they create something that doesn’t exist. You should satisfy yourself instead of expecting viewers to watch something you’re not convinced about,” says Shukla.

For Saxena, one of the country’s leading showrunners and directors behind shows like Kaala Paani, Panchaayat, Kota Factory, Gullak, Yeh Meri Family, Tripling, Permanent Roommates to name a few, it’s going to be a case of less being more in the Indian OTT space. “2024 will see a little bit of course correction. Because we’ve seen so much content over the past few years, platforms have realised that they need to sit back and analyse what they want to spend on and focus on making fewer but better shows. Let the focus be on quality.” 


A post shared by Randeep Jha (@randeepjha)

It’s no longer just stories depicting the hustle and bustle of metro cities; the past few years have seen a rise in shows with a rural setting as its backdrop. According to Jha, the reason is simple, “Most of the shows are from there because there are more towns and villages in India compared to the number of cities. Plus, a majority of writers come from there as well. This has led to the range increasing due to rural-based shows across genres doing so well. We see that the hesitation amongst OTT players has now gone and they’re far more welcoming. As far as audiences are concerned, the gap between rural and urban audiences is reducing because you see the same show being watched by a person living in Bandra and someone in a village.” 

When does one start thinking about a season 2?

All stories come to an end, or maybe not, if the creator of a web series realises and decides that there’s more to be explored in season two. Do they start writing a first season knowing that things will end at the perfect moment, leaving fans asking for more, or does the response of the first season make way for the same story to extend its length? Talking about his thought process, Shukla, who has planned another three seasons of Asur, adds, “There is no question of having to make a second season. It isn’t a necessity. For me, I need to know and believe that I can sustain the show for another season. And make sure that the audience has fun, doesn’t question my choice, and says, ‘What have you made?’ When I am writing, you know the direction and what’s going to happen. If I feel that the path isn’t satisfactory, I won’t pursue it. There is no compulsion here. Sometimes there is no story that can go forward.” 

Jha, on the other hand, chooses to take things as they come. “Right now, I’m developing a show that is so big that it will have a second season. But that’s not the case with all shows; in this case, Kohrra. I don’t think you think about a second season after season 1. You sometimes move on, and the thought comes to your mind after a few months. I feel that there’s a lot about Punjab that’s yet to be explored.”

Speaking about taking that final call, Saxena says, “Making the second season of Kaala Paani was always a thought. But I always wait for the show to come out and see the audience’s reaction. You think you’re making a masterpiece, but the show turns out to be an absolute dud or bomb. Staying away from the show gives you perspective with regard to how you want to take things forward. With some shows, you know things are going to end there. Making a second season is a discussion that’s going to happen for every show. But if they see that the show has immense potential in a single season, they will take that bet. Making something is better than making nothing.” 

Why aren’t audiences watching regional OTT shows?

While audiences in India and across the globe revel in the fervour and excitement that movies from South India create, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the web series that come from that region. While comparing the two does seem unfair, why is it that the world is yet to know of gems made by creators down south and across the rest of the country? “It will happen gradually,” says Jha. “Let’s not forget that not many people consumed regional content before COVID. It’s only due to these streaming platforms that we now know about the biggest stars across regional cinema. It’ll take time, but we’ll get there.” Sameer shifts the perspective from the audience to the makers, making a pertinent point. “The makers of regional cinema get to make different types of stories that get accepted by audiences. So, the satisfaction is there. That’s why they aren’t doing more OTT. Plus, you don’t always need an A-lister because it’s the story that’s the hero. That said, foraying into regional OTT content is a space they will slowly get into.”

What goes into ideating season finales?

People might not remember the start, but they will always remember the end. The same holds true for the season finale of a web series. And who better than the makers of three of India’s most compelling web series to talk about what goes behind making one? For Shukla, a season finale is like the climax of a film. “You have to end things on a high. For Asur, it had to be a high-octane ending, so I had to take things up a notch. If that’s good, I’m sorted. It’s pointless if the stakes aren’t raised in the finale. The finale is the first thing that I think about. I won’t start writing without that.”

With audiences having an appetite for OTT content that only seems to be increasing, Saxena compares the viewing experience of a season finale with eating. “Audiences should feel that they got the complete meal. There needs to be a hook, but they shouldn’t find things unbelievable. They got what they wanted and are now looking forward to the next season. That only happens when you tie up the loose ends and give them a complete arc. The moment you do that, you leave the audience wanting more.” 

What does this trio have in store? 

Having left viewers right at the edge of their seats with their engrossing and engaging stories, one can’t wait to see more of the same show or them making something completely new and different. Shukla’s got a couple of projects in the pipeline, including a Netflix series that’s in post-production. And yes, his work on Asur 3 has already begun. With his last two projects being gruesome and as raw and real as they can be, Jha’s taking a complete break from the genre and is doing a feature film that’s a dark comedy along with another show. Saxena has his hands full with the second season of Kaala Paani, along with a couple of shows and films that are currently in the writing stage and a movie with Viacom that he’s very excited about.

Lead and square image: Netflix

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