Writer Dhruv Sehgal wanted to tell a different kind of love story. He wanted to make a show about the everydayness of relationships where nothing grand happens, without much of a plot.
What came out of it was Dice Media's Little Things, a small, experimental YouTube show which became a thundering success (the first episode currently has over 15 million views). That was until the second season was lapped up by Netflix last year, making it among the first set of Indian originals on the global platform.
The show, in which Sehgal also co-stars, centres on the relationship between Dhruv and Kavya (Mithila Palkar in one of the roles that shot her to success) and their day to day squabbles and conversations which paints an intimate, relatable portrait of a two people in love.
With season 3 around the corner, Sehgal spoke to me about the evolution of the show, the move to Netflix, the surprising value of Instagram in providing feedback and the experience of working with a writers room for the first time.
Has there been a significant change in the kind of response the show has got after moving to Netflix?
I wouldn't say there's been a massive change in response but we do now get a decent share of messages from people in other countries. Particularly a lot from South American countries and quite a few from Turkey and Portugal. I'm not sure why, there must be some sort of cultural resonance.
Many creators consider YouTube to be the most transparent and democratic medium because people come together to watch a show, discuss it in the comments and you can see the number of views and get instant feedback. Do you miss that at all?
Thanks to Instagram, I don't miss it anymore. Maybe it's because of the persona that I and Mithila (Palkar) have, but people aren't afraid to say what they feel. I mean, I don't get hate comments, but I do get negative feedback which I hold very close to me because it's so important. Sadly, in our industry very few people give you honest feedback, the people who do are your audiences. I don't miss it because other platforms have enabled me to access what my audience is feeling. If I wasn't on Instagram, I would've been very lost about what people think about the show.
With the move to Netflix, was there ever a fear that there's an audience that could access it before that might not be able to now?
There was but I always thought that someone who loves the show would find a way to watch it. My fear was more that, at least in the second season, people would think 'why would I pay money for a show which I used get to watch for free' or 'why would I watch a show on Netflix that's just about people sitting and talking?' Or that people would think it's just a cute show and nothing else. Luckily, that hasn't been the case.
Were you afraid that by moving to a larger platform, you'd lose that intimacy and smallness that people love about the show?
No, because the scaling is done in terms of production and how the show looks. But in terms of how the show feels, it could just as easily be a podcast or a graphic novel but I'd want it to convey the same feeling. With the coming of Netflix, three things change. One is that there is a slight shift in tone in terms of the storytelling. The second is the canvas is suddenly bigger. Third is the Netflix audience.
Has the writing process changed a lot through the journey of the show going from being a small unassuming YouTube series to this big sensation?
For the third season we had a writers' room, so it wasn't just me, there were three more people. It took me maybe a week to understand the dynamic of how it works but I think everyone was able to love the show equally which is why it helped us to make the show in the same way I would've made it even if I was writing it alone… but maybe this is just a better version of it.
Initially, I was like why do I need it? I can understand needing a female writer to get that perspective, but do I need two? And do I need another guy and a writer's assistant for a show that I practically wrote by myself in my room? So the logistics of it threw me off a little bit in the beginning, but I understood that it's getting better with having these many people.
I can understand needing a female writer to get that perspective, but do I need two? And do I need another guy and a writer's assistant for a show that I practically wrote by myself in my room? So the logistics of a writers room threw me off a little bit in the beginning, but I understood that it's getting better with having these many people.
Is it a challenge to write a compelling and engaging show which focuses almost entirely on just two people?
It is a challenge, but I never thought 'oh shit because it's this, I'm limited by my canvas'. I never thought it's a problem. I always thought it's enough. What we have in our hands are two characters who happen to be in love and are growing and being challenged by themselves, each other, and the world. If I felt that wasn't enough then that means my life is boring because I relate to these characters a lot and I don't think my life is particularly boring.
But it is a challenge to find those small human moments because that's all the show really is. That's what all the blood, sweat and everything goes into. We are even trying to come up with new concepts which may not already exist. For example, with the dialogues, how do we make that as real as possible? Can we actually have people stuttering? Can we incorporate words being mispronounced? Can we include a character's subconscious? So those are the things that we are trying to play with. Some great shows have done it but at least we approach it as something fresh new.
Has the audience reaction impacted a character arc or where the story is going?
This may sound arrogant, but it's actually never happened because the show we were trying to do in at least in the first season was still fresh in the perspective that 'let's make a show without a plot. Let's make five episodes about the everydayness where nothing grand happens'. In that sense, it was a show that is very personal, so I don't think audiences ever influenced me. But while writing it, over time I do now know whether some dialogues would work or not.
Do you ever feel a clash between giving people more of what they fell in love with as opposed to trying to take it to new and interesting places?
I don't necessarily look at it as a clash because then I'd go mad. I need to look at it as a thing where a lot of people are able to understand what we're doing and why, and the ones who don't, appreciate some part of the journey. One thing we hear a lot of is 'why isn't it cute anymore, why is it so serious now?' I always say – just because this season is serious it doesn't mean next season has to be even more serious. The next could also be the lightest one yet. So there's no pressure in that sense, the only pressure is to make a better season than the previous one, irrespective of the tone.
Do you have a favourite moment from the show?
Yeah, there's plenty of moments. I would say the fight in the car the second episode of season 2. It's a 10-minute-long take and I'm really proud of that because the writing just came through beautifully and I think the direction and acting are really good. Even though I've acted in it, I think both of us were very good and it felt like two people were actually fighting.
Also, the sixth episode of that season because each shot is just one take which very few people noticed. For creators, it's exciting that we basically shot 8 scenes where each scene was one shot and made an episode out of it. And the entire episode is just inside of a chhotu Bombay room which we never step outside of. So those are the things that fill me with a lot of pride and make you realise where we started and where we are now and the level of ambition we're going for.