ZEE5 GameChangers: Creative genius of Balki, Akshat Sharma, Manish Kalra, Saiyami

The fifth edition of Adgully’s SCREENXX Summit & Awards 2023 witnessed a stellar panel discussion chaired by KV Sridhar, Global Chief Creative Officer, Nihilent, and Founder, HyperCollective. The discussion, titled ‘#ZEE5GameChangers: Let’s Talk Change’, explored the transformative power of OTT platforms and their role in reshaping the entertainment landscape. This engaging conversation featured prominent voices from the entertainment and Bollywood industries, alongside Manish Kalra, Chief Business Officer, ZEE5. Together, they delved into the ever-evolving dynamics of storytelling, audience preferences, and technology in the context of OTT content. Esteemed industry figures, including adman-turned-filmmaker R Balki, actor Saiyami Kher, and Akshat Sharma (Director of ‘Haddi’), shared valuable insights on how the content industry is adapting to these evolving trends. This enlightening conversation offered a glimpse into the strategies, challenges, and opportunities that define the world of content creation and distribution.

KV Sridhar noted, “A lot of changes have been happening in the OTT industry, the production, distribution, consumption and the context of consumption, everything has changed – from going to theatres to watching OTT to making originals for only OTT to coming on OTT post theatrical release. There is also experimentation in the revenue model – whether it’s AVOD or SVOD or PPV.”

He further added, “The last few years have been power packed for the OTT industry and it is a constant evolution because of platforms like ZEE5 and others, and you need to take a pause and grasp these changes so that you can understand and try and create a future, and that is the reason why identifying the Game Changers of the industry and debating what made different parts of this industry change so differently, what are the new things that technology can bring, what are the new things that consumers would ask for, has become so important.”

“In the end, it is about a beautiful story and a great piece of entertainment. People come, they watch and if they don’t like it, they switch. There is no loyalty to the platform per say, but to the content,” he observed.

ZEE5’s Manish Kalra remarked, “We are not the orchestrator, the audience is.” Continuing further, he said, “The content watchers orchestrate where, when and how they want to watch. We are just enabling them by picking the right content. We look at insights, what will connect with them, and how we will give them the content that they are looking for.”

“My only brief to the team is - Look for more real and relatable and relevant stories. Now, how we get across to that and how we get those stories, along with so much competition coming in, we pick unique stories,” he added.

Kalra observed that with consumers getting evolved, they have become more intelligent and more demanding. He stressed on understanding one’s consumer and reaching out to the right consumer, picking the right content, partnering with the right creators and actors, and spending where the marketing dollar should be, while at the same time managing the bottomline in a very constrained way.

“We are all excited about how OTT has changed, specifically for us. We have been focusing on stories which have been about changing the game,” Added Kalra.

R Balki, who has directed films like ‘Cheeni Kum’, ‘Paa’, ‘Pad Man’, ‘Ki & Ka’, and the sports drama ‘Ghoomer’, which launched earlier this year, shared, “We all make films to tell a story; there are some stories which are relevant theatrically, because they give you a certain experience. But even that it is all about what is playing at that point of time, what is the environment at that point of time, how much people are starved of certain kind of cinema.”

Speaking on the OTT versus Theatre debate, Balki maintained that, “It’s not about OTT Vs Theatre, but about how many more people can see your film.” He added here that a lot of his films were streaming on ZEE5, from ‘Cheeni Kum’ to ‘Chup: Revenge of the Artist’ and the recently released ‘Ghoomer’. “I never did this for an OTT platform, but a lot more people have watched this content on ZEE5,” Balki said, adding, “Every platform adds an audience and that is how I look at it. A platform like ZEE5 adds a lot more audience because it is spread across all kinds of strata. I have never thought in my life that this is what I will do for an OTT platform. There is no such thing as ‘I designed it for this platform’.”

Balki’s film ‘Ghoomer’ stars Saiyami Kher as a specially-abled cricketer, who is able to realise her dream of playing for India through her sheer grit and determination. Speaking about her role, Saiyami said, “As an actor, you would die to do a role like this and a film like this. This role genuinely has taken blood, sweat and toil and my entire heart was in this project. I was left speechless on how this film has inspired people. We’ve shown this film to a whole lot of para athletes, we showed it to the para cricket team and it connected with them at a very emotional level.”

Adding further, Saiyami said, “Films inspire people, that’s what films do. In terms of ‘Ghoomer’ and my character Anina, we didn’t bring up any sympathy factor. It was about getting on with life, and I feel that is what connected with most of the para athletes. Balki Sir made it so matter of fact.”

The conversation then moved on to a totally different genre of film – the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer crime drama ‘Haddi’. On bringing on board Nawazuddin to play the lead role of a transgender person in ‘Haddi’, the film’s director, Akshat Sharma, said, “Convincing Nawaz was slightly easier than it looks. I did have to chase him for a few months, because it was during the year that COVID-19 happened (2020), when he was in Budhana and I was in Mumbai. So, it took me some time to get him into a room with me. Once we met, we just had a script reading session – it wasn’t even a narration, it was just a start-to-finish script reading that we had at his place and fortunately the moment we finished the script reading, he said ‘Yes’.”

Praising Nawazuddin for ‘Haddi’, Sharma said, “He has been like a rock till the movie’s release. A major share of the success of ‘Haddi’ goes to Nawaz and his portrayal of the transgender character.”

These are edited excerpts. For the complete panel discussion, please watch below:


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