Neeraj Pandey: As content makers, we have to pull up our socks now – Times of India

Whether it’s your films (like Baby, Special 26 and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story) or shows, you tend to get excited about reality-led content. What hooks you on to them?

I find that the relatability is pre-configured. I don’t have to make an extra effort to sell that idea or connect to people. That itself is the only box I look to tick when I am looking for a story to narrate. That is the starting point for me every time I decide to make a show or a movie.

Your 4-part documentary series, Bandon Mein Tha Dum, was recently unveiled. It revolves around 2021’s India V/s Australia test series, considered to be one of the biggest fightbacks in the history of the game where India defeated its opponent at their hallowed home turf at Gabba. What was your point of interest in putting this together as a series?

We were watching the matches on TV as they happened. My producers, Sudeep and Shital Bhatia, were watching the series with me. I remember, Team India was struggling to save the third match at that time. Sudeep had suggested that this would be a great story to tell. I said, ‘No, but it will be a great story if India was to win the subsequent match, too.’ And we won. It was precisely then that we knew we had to chase this story and make it. Work on this docu-series practically started the very next day after the series was over. We got in touch with Australia’s cricket board and also with other partners who would be working with us on this. Voot Select responded and it all came together.

How challenging is it to engage an audience that more or less knows the start and the culmination of your stories?

So that’s the thing here. People know the start and finish but they don’t know what happened behind the scenes, and in between the start and finish points. No one really knows what the journey was like, in the case of this show, the cricketers to achieve the unimaginable and unexpected at that time. For a team that was all out at 36 in its second innings, it was a big feat. That’s also when the cast comes into play. In this case, we take you behind the scenes to give you an idea of what happened there. The real story behind everything you saw on TV or read about in the papers. We got in touch with Tim Payne, Pat Cummins and then, we had the Indian players, Ajinkya Rahane, Ashwin, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Bihari, Mohammed Siraj who together constructed the whole journey for us. We had all seen the matches, ball-to-ball, but no one knows the battles these boys fought mentally, standing in their dressing room at that time. For us the big differentiator is that the audience doesn’t know the how and why, which we’re trying to tell you with as many perspectives in place. Almost all the interesting anecdotes we gathered have made it to the final cut and yet, a lot of them could not be included. When we look at our own personal journeys where we make right and wrong decisions, we know what influenced those decisions. Sometimes, it’s our tenacity that has paid off. The series take you back to your own journey. It’s about resilience and undying tenacity and it ticks most boxes that make for an inspiring and motivating story.

The test series you’ve delved into was not bereft of controversies, including one about captain Virat Kohli’s exit around the time his daughter was born. Could you touch upon those in your docu-series?
That is precisely our job. A documentary allows you to present different points of view and dive deep into the material and present different viewpoints. It’s for the audience to decide what they want to stick to. As content creators, it was not our place to judge what Virat Kohli did. For all you know, he did something that was very important for him and we should respect it. That’s my opinion. We shouldn’t be taking sides as the creators of the series, and we don’t. It’s for the viewer to make a decision if any. That is a rule that applies to all the other instances that happened there during that cricket series. A lot of things were also wrongly-positioned things. Like you would remember that four players went to get food in a restaurant and it became a question of breaking quarantine regulations. Mohammed Siraj had an interesting take on that. It happened after the previous match was drawn. Siraj believes that if we had lost that match, too, no one would probably have created such a ruckus. People wanted to play mind games. So there are all points of view in the docuseries. It’s for people to appreciate that sometimes, two conflicting perspectives could be right in their own places.

In the last couple of years, you’ve taken well to the OTT platforms. And your shows have been appreciated. Today, when we’re on the other side of the pandemic in many ways, what do you think has happened with the advent of these platforms?

The digital medium has empowered us. We were always struggling to say certain things for which a film was not an apt medium. Like Special Ops could never have been made into a film, especially in the manner in which it unfolds over season one and one point five. A film would never allow that to happen. Similarly this docu-series; I would never look at recreating this drama with actors because with the cricketers and the other stakeholders, we’ve brought a new dimension to the narrative. Interviews and true-life storytelling makes it way more interesting. So, the digital medium is an extension and empowerment of ideas that are exclusive to this domain. It’s not like yeh film mein nahi bik raha hai to chalo OTT pe banate hain. Today when we look at ideas, we try to understand if it qualifies for the format and the medium that we are discussing it for.

It has been a few years since you directed a movie…
The wait is over. I am starting my film towards the end of the year.

Is it Crack?

No, Crack is postponed. In fact, I should not use the term postponed because it is on the backburner and I frankly don’t know what is going to happen to that. The film I am starting is a new subject and is a mixed genre project. We’ve decided to release it next year and start shooting in October-November.

The entertainment business has gone through a lot in recent times, including the onslaught from movies in languages other than Hindi. What do you think is going on?
It’s a period of transition. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with our industry. We are coming out of a weird situation. The last two-three years have shaken things up and it is bound to have an impact. When have you otherwise seen three large films from a regional industry release back to back the way it happened this year? The content was all bottle-necked and the vent was all choked. This is again a complex situation and there is not one solo reason for the way things are happening. How the audience got tutored in content is also something we have to understand. There’s so much variety that they’ve been exposed to that they’re spoilt for quality. As content makers, we have to pull up our socks now and give them something worth their while. I hope this ups the ante for me, too and reflects well in the choices that I make as a content creator.


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