Actor Shreyas Talpade, known for his stellar act in Iqbal and Dor, as well as comic turns in the Golmaal series and Om Shanti Om, has announced the launch of his over-the-top (OTT) startup, Nine Rasa, exclusively for theatrical and stage performances.
Even as 2020 became the year of reset due to the pandemic for almost everyone, Shreyas says he is thankful, for “it showed me my true potential.”
“The intention is to help people in the theatre fraternity,” he says. “The pandemic has impacted these people severely. There are many artists dependent on live shows and theatre and these have been shut.”
How it all came together
Shreyas spent the last year working on the plan. Initially, he and a few artists thought of shooting plays on the video conferencing platform like Zoom, then showcasing them and sharing the money they would make from them. But they realised there was also an opportunity for theatre to reach millions of people worldwide.
“If you can’t go to the theatres, let the theatres come to you,” is how Shreyas explains his vision with Nine Rasa.“From the time I did Iqbal, I have been so caught up with films that I have missed out on 150-odd plays in various languages,” he says. “As the show would possibly happen in one part of India, I would be shooting in another part of the country, or I wouldn’t be in India at all. Thus, I felt that there would be people like me who would want to see or be part of these shows and not necessarily be present offline to do so.”
Nine Rasa’s focus will solely be on theatre and other performing arts. “We don’t intend to dilute it with web series. The focus is on theatre—long plays, one-act plays, long and short skits, solos, poetry, story reading, dance, musicals, etc. Everything on stage will happen on Nine Rasa. This acts as a differentiator,” he explains.
“The idea is to make it inclusive, and give people who have the talent the opportunity,” he says.
First, he and his team focused on getting the content together during the lockdown. “Once the cities started opening up we started shooting. We have Sanjay Upadhyay, ex-programming head of Colours Marathi, as the head of content and strategy; and Ashwini Chaudhary as head of content and acquisition operations; Vijay Kelkare, one of the best theatre directors, is our content creator; Rajesh Kutty and Ethan Kotter are in charge of tech; the senior journalist Manar Joshi as script supervisor, and then a lot of younger talent to keep us connected with what youngsters want,” Shreyas says of the Nine Rasa team.
Brush with theatre
Now an accomplished stage and film actor, Shreyas had his first brush with theatre in childhood, but initially, he was fond of cricket.“One day my mother forcibly took me to a Marathi play, which had two actors, Satish Kolekar and Swati Chitnis,” he recalls. “And while it was my first ever play, I was completely mesmerised by the fact that two people could enthral and grab your attention for close to two hours.”
Shreyas realised he was missing something magical and got involved in theatre, playing the roles of Sita in Modern Ramayana and Draupadi in Modern Mahabharata in school skits.“Theatre just lets me be. I forget everything when I am on stage and it isn’t a feeling that I can express completely. There is a connection with the platform, which is different from everything else,” he says.
Shreyas recalls that hearing the audience’s laughter and applause for the first time made him realise he could become anything he wanted to on stage.
Also, the fact that different audiences react differently to the same performance gives him an “adrenaline rush.” “People in one place love a punch, others don’t like it elsewhere. You need to perform differently every time.”
Theatre also paved the way for Shreyas’ entry into films. He says there is “a romantic fantasy that some big producer or director sees you at a play and tells you they want to sign you up for the next film. From theatre to TV and then you move to films”.“I still remember my first call from Chandrakant Kulkarni for a Marathi film. I was elated. It was how I got my first film,” he says. “Once you start doing cinema, the magic is different. It was a tough phase in my life until I got Iqbal. I had done TV shows in Marathi and some producers felt I was overexposed on TV and there were no films happening. I sat home for a year and out of the blue I got a call for Iqbal’s audition.”
Nine Rasa will follow the model of subscriber video on demand and advertising-based video on demand. Shreyas says the tech team is working on another model, where an actor and creator can keep finding opportunities to make money on the platform for the time they are associated with it. The team is also looking at merchandising.
Nine Rasa has already collated 100 hours of original content in Hindi, English, Hinglish, Marathi and Gujarati shot exclusively for the platform. It will add content in two more languages. The platform may also stream live shows in the near future.Explaining why he decided to launch an OTT platform, Shreyas says: “It gives you a larger scope. There are a lot of things that I wouldn’t do in a film or even TV, but OTT gives you the scope to experiment and try out. Everything boils down to content. If your content is great people will come and watch you.”
Shreyas has turned OTT entrepreneur at a time when demand for regional content and video streaming platforms is growing, alongside the trend of actors starting their own businesses.
A RedSeer report says content in Hindi and Indic languages dominated overall streaming growth, primarily due to the resumption of daily soaps. In fact, Hindi language content accounted for more than 50 percent of overall streaming in April-July 2020.
This apart, regional OTT platforms are mushrooming in the country. There is Kolkata-based Hoichoi, Indore-based Stage, and more recently, popular Tamil Nadu-based YouTube channel Blacksheep inaugurated Blacksheep Value. Actor Rana Daggubati has launched his YouTube channel, SouthBay.
Besides, actor Alia Bhatt launched her sustainable children’s wear brand Ed-a-Mamma and Suniel Shetty started FTC Talent to train, curate and connect talent in the entertainment and media space. The startup also won the AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. Akshay Kumar and Rana Daggubati have teamed up to launch influencer-led online marketplace Socialswag.
Edited by Lena Saha