'What we could not do in films, we can do on OTT.'
Richa Chadha, who plays an upright, investigating officer on The Great Indian Murder, feels her role is a departure from some of her previous characters which weren't as 'understated' as the one here.
Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, the whodunnit is an adaptation of Vikas Swarup's acclaimed novel Six Suspects, which revolves around the murder of the son of a high-profile minister.
The show also features Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta star Pratik Gandhi.
Chadha, known for her performances in films like the Gangs of Wasseypur series, Fukrey franchise and Masaan, said Dhulia's only brief for her to portray DCP Sudha Bharadwaj was to play the role with a 'lot of dignity'.
"But that doesn't mean she doesn't have a sense of humour or there won't be any lighter moments in her life when something tragic has happened in her personal life. I built the character keeping those nuances in mind," Richa says.
"I haven't really got a chance to play straight-up, 'normal' characters. They are either abusive, extremely rural or a ganglord... But this is perhaps one of the straightest, upfront characters I have played," she adds.
She feels it was important to keep her performance subtle.
"My character guided me in which direction to go. It is difficult for actors because you are always told to create something new. Sometimes it is extremely hard to just sit back.... Here, I am playing an investigator, so it is all about my eyes, I have to read between the lines, understand what people are saying and what they mean," says Richa.
"It was tough to stay understated and perform in this male (dominated) world for the character."
Pratik Gandhi plays Suraj Yadav, a CBI officer, tasked with uncovering the murder mystery along with Chadha's Bharadwaj.
Gandhi said he was intrigued how the show deviated from the book and came up with two new characters, his and Chadha's.
The series has been co-written by Dhulia, Vijay Maurya and Puneet Sharma.
"It was an extremely challenging and interesting character. Richa and my character are not part of the book, they were especially written for The Great Indian Murder. It was exciting for me because after reading the book, when I started reading the script, I was fascinated by how they took the story forward. I had ample opportunities to play those layers with humour," he adds.
Vikas Swarup -- who retired from the Indian Foreign Service last June -- said Six Suspects was a 'complex' book to translate to screen as the viewpoints of the suspects -- each of whom represents a different stratum of society -- keeps shifting.
The author lauded the team for not compromising on the scale of the show and said that new characters were required as additions to act as narrators for the story.
"Richa and Pratik's characters have been added, because in a show, you must have a 'sutradhar' (narrator), which you don't need in a subplot. A book has subplots, interior monologue, but a screen is in your face, which goes from point A to B, to C," he adds.
The Great Indian Murder also stars Raghubir Yadav, Ashutosh Rana, Sharib Hashmi, Amey Wagh, Jatin Goswami, Shashank Arora and Paoli Dam.
Film-maker Tigmanshu Dhulia says he saw the streaming revolution sweeping the country almost a decade ago and believes that the OTT platforms have not only brought changes in storytelling but also introduced a wide range of 'disciplined' actors.
Known for critically-acclaimed films like Paan Singh Tomar, Haasil and the Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster franchise, Dhulia made his streaming debut in 2019 with shows like Out of Love and Criminal Justice.
"I have been saying that OTT will take over films for 10 years now," he says. "The pandemic has just given it some more speed. I am extremely happy in this space. You get to make an OTT show the same way you get to make a feature film, with the same mounting. We get to work with good actors now and the new breed of actors are much (more) disciplined," Dhulia says.
Dhulia said streaming platforms are also a blessing for small-scale films which would earlier struggle to earn money at the box office.
With the freedom to experiment, Dhulia said directors and writers now have an opportunity to 'think really out-of-the-box'.
"The breaking of the Hindi commercial formula was a step that was taken back in the 2000s, when directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Rajkumar Hirani and I came around. That started reflecting in our hardcore commercial films, say a Dangal or a Bajrangi Bhaijaan. They were in the commercial format, but had a different storytelling," the filmmaker said.
The world of streaming offers the film-makers and actors 'more opportunities', he added.
"In films, you were always pushing the plot forward, and had an interval point... Our sense of screenplay was contrived, but OTT has given it clarity. Now you get to tell new stories, in a new way, new technology with better actors and you get to show it to the world," Dhulia said.
The show is backed by Ajay Devgn, who feels the biggest strength of the digital space is its reliance on storytelling.
"The best thing about OTT is that here, scripts and storytelling are of utmost importance. What we could not do in films, we can do here on OTT. A lot of stories get justified on OTT. That's the best part of it, that you can think of new ideas, different things and put it out on screen," he says.
Devgn himself is gearing up to make his acting debut with Rudra-The Edge of Darkness, which is an adaptation of the Idris Elba-starrer British series Luther.
As compared to the West, the actor believes the OTT space in the country is still under development. But it won't be too long before Indian shows catch up with the global standards, he added.
"We have just recently started on OTT, we are maturing and doing fabulously well. It always takes time, but we will keep doing better. A series has a different form of screenplay, which the West has been doing for quite some time... But our Indian culture, its earthiness and characters are very vast. So the kind of stories we can tell, we can go much beyond them, eventually," Devgn said.
The Great Indian Murder will stream on Disney+ Hotstar from February 4.