Thursday, May 30, 2024

‘Lesser explored genres have gained newfound acceptance among audiences’

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SHIKHA DUGGAL

A storyteller, actor, and filmmaker with more than a hundred stories and successful streaming releases in his kitty, Sudhanshu Rai is known for touching upon subjects as well as genres that have rarely been experimented with, especially on our screens.

In an illuminating discourse with him, the man behind the magic begins, “The storyline is the heart of any film, which keeps the audience engrossed and helps to weave a magical tale to leave an indelible mark. In a film, the star cast is as important as the story because they bring to life the distinct characters conceived by the writer. I believe the right casting is crucial, as when it syncs with the story, the characters connect with the audience, creating a timeless tale. Thus, packaging a film in such a way that it resonates with the audience and also uses the best talent is sacrosanct in my filmmaking. For me as a filmmaker, every aspect of it is equally important. Various departments come together and contribute towards the same vision to produce a film that is to the best of their capabilities, and such films most possibly strike the right chord with the audience.”

Following the conclusion of the first season of his storytelling show on a leading radio channel, he came up with his first production, Chaipatti, which garnered rave reviews and positive feedback across OTT platforms.

So he continued, “Bollywood has always been about the box office, which has conventionally relied on run-of-the-mill concepts and storytelling formats. Gradually, with time, first with the advent of multiplexes and eventually through OTT, the audience’s preference has evolved drastically, craving out-of-the-box storylines and ideas. The way a story was told until a few years ago is not the same anymore. Non-linear narratives and lesser explored genres such as sci-fi, detective thrillers, and horror comedies have gained newfound acceptance among audiences from all age groups, and this is encouraging enough for our generation of filmmakers to indulge in experimentation to offer something fresh.” Thereafter, he directed and played the titular role in Detective Boomrah, a web series based on the iconic fictional character created by Sudhanshu himself a few years ago. After the success of these and his last outing as an actor and a writer, Chintaa Mani, Sudhanshu Rai is now set to play the protagonist in an upcoming psychological thriller Bollywood film.

“But I have been a storyteller even before becoming an actor and a filmmaker, and I have had the opportunity to engage with audiences through various mediums, especially live storytelling shows. One of my learnings as a storyteller, which is again fundamental to my work as a filmmaker, is that listeners and audiences, irrespective of their generation, strata, or age, have of late expressed great affinity for such genres. For example, at a recent storytelling show, the audience comprised kids, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens. As I proceeded with stories of choice, there was unequivocal demand for horror and supernatural stories, and this manifests the evolved preference of the audience. There is no reason why filmmakers should not cater to this growing demand, and it is wonderful that such concepts are being experimented with by the biggest of banners. With time and technology in terms of VFX getting better, we can only expect so much more.”

When he took up formal storytelling over five years ago, he introduced the audience to stories and characters that were much beyond the realms of reality. While some presumed it to be ahead of time, the response from listeners was quite contrary to that. Today, he has more than 200 stories to his credit, of which the most popular ones are sci-fi, mystery, detective, horror, and thriller stories. His first production, too, was a horror comedy, followed by a sci-fi thriller and a mix of multiple such sub-genres, all of which were loved by the audience for their concepts. Both as a storyteller and a filmmaker, he always intends to bring something unseen to the audience.

To boot, “Our upcoming Bollywood thriller is the first where the premise of science fiction is set in the heartland of India. And it is not just in terms of visuals but also in terms of its culture and language. Bhojpuri has been included as a prominent element in our Bollywood sci-fi thriller. While I play the protagonist of the story, the audience would see actors like Hiten Tejwani, Sourabh Raaj Jain, Manisha Sharma, Shobhit Sujay, Deepak Wadhwa, and Siddharth Banerjee, among others, in never-before-seen and even some larger-than-life avatars.”

As a writer, he loved the thrill of keeping the audience wondering what would be revealed next. A detective story is just the perfect format for that. Detective Boomrah, a character conceived by him in his early storytelling days, is currently among the most popular detective characters in contemporary fiction. There was a frenzy when we unveiled the look of Detective Boomrah a few years ago, and it was amplified with the release of a web series marking the character’s on-screen debut. Most recently, his five-part story series The Silver Man, featuring the detective, has been liked by the audience, even as his most popular stories, such as The Killer, The End of The World, The Missing Mr. Kwatrochi, etc., have all featured Boomrah. As for the second season of the web series Detective Boomrah, all he can assure you at this point is that it is set to get much bigger.

“The foremost challenge as a writer and a filmmaker is always the execution, from the vision to the screen. Moreover, when you shoot at a remote location, there are a number of additional challenges as well. We shot most of our upcoming film in a village near Gorakhpur, and it did not come without its share of initial teething issues. However, passionate zeal and undeterred teamwork left no scope for laxity. Sets designed by local artisans also allowed us to be more authentic, and the schedule got completed without any delay.”

Telling us in particular about live storytelling that he’s connected with, he sheds light: “Live Storytelling is for everyone who adores stories or seeks wholesome entertainment. Much like a concert or theatre-like experience, a storyteller takes the audience through diverse worlds of unhindered imagination within a span of 1-2 hours. Replete with orchestrated sound effects, ambient lighting, and voice modulation, when the storyteller narrates a situation, each member of the audience creates distinct imagery for the same in their mind. For example, if I describe a dense forest, different people would imagine different kinds of trees and locales. While it enhances the imagination of the audience drastically, it gives them a thrill that they cannot expect in any other form of entertainment. The audience hangs on to every word and lives through the story. Storytelling is now a buzz even in corporate circles as one of the most effective employee engagement activities, but it needs to be explored formally with a methodical approach to be accepted more widely as a viable form of complete entertainment.”

A multifaceted personality, Rai is also a serial entrepreneur, yoga practitioner, and spiritual enthusiast who enjoys the company of enlightened saints and leaders. Instead of successful professionals, he draws his inspiration from the common masses, who, according to him, are happy, lively, and spirited inside and out.

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