Watched Vadham, starring Sruthi Hariharan and Semmalar Annam? Here’s how director Venkatesh Babu worked on what was originally a sitcom and turned it into a web series with a single overarching narrative. Excerpts from a conversation with Vishal Menon.
When you write about a female police officer and a team getting together to find out about a particular crime, how do you make it something that people will binge-watch? The show is almost four hours, and you break it into episodes. What are the dos and don’ts when you write a show like this?
I initially pitched this script almost as a sitcom where we’ll have an all-women police station as the background and a principal set of characters, and each episode would have one case. Sameer Nair (producer) liked this because all-women police stations are distinct and special to South India, and there aren’t many in the North. So he was pretty intrigued, but what he said was, ‘retain the background and the characters’, but bring in a single overarching narrative. The guide that was given to us was ‘You need to have the audience binge-watch.’ He felt that since I am from the movies, I should be able to do that. So we went back to scripting and came up with a fresh script. That said, writing for a web series was new for me. He said we needed to have individual episodes with a start and an end, and we needed a hook. And so, we needed to have a different kind of flow and pattern for several things in scripting to be able to tell this story.
So even if you get a proper narrative line that should last from the beginning to the end, where do you decide to break that episode? What is the logic of that? Do you force yourself to write a cliffhanger or does it have to come naturally?
It was both. We were looking for opportunities within the script that could naturally reach a certain crescendo and then cut it at that. We didn’t actually force a lot of things. We found instances where we could cut, and we scripted it in such a way that it built up towards that. So, it starts as kind of a set-up, then there’s a small bay off and then we move on to the next, and the hook was there. If we were to assume and shoot it as a film, it wouldn’t work, because the pattern is totally different from that of a film.