As the internet is penetrating into our lives more and more, several mainstream Bollywood actors are jumping from the silver screen and turning to digital series, which have kind of revolutionized the whole structure of showbusiness in the past few years. After spending close to two decades in the Hindi film industry and starring in several successful films, Arjun Rampal also plunges into digital space with the ZEE5 original The Final Call.
Adapted from Priya Kumar’s 2015 novel I Will Go with You: The Flight of a Lifetime, the web-series stars Rampal as a pilot with suicidal tendencies. It also stars Anupriya Goenka, Javed Jaffrey and Sakshi Tanwar in prominent parts. Recently, Eastern Eye correspondent Mohnish Singh caught up with the actor to know more about the series. In this interview, Arjun talks about what led him to make his digital debut with The Final Call, films which are very close to his heart and, of course, what is he watching on the web these days.
You are the latest in the series of mainstream Bollywood actors who have forayed into digital medium. What led you to this space?
I think the OTT platform is quite an amazing platform. I have been quite intrigued by it for a while now, after watching a few international shows and some great Indian shows that have come up lately and, also, the freedom that comes with it. So yeah, I was open to it.
How did you come about signing The Final Call?
ZEE5 had called me for discussing a completely different project, which was a period biopic. It was all confirmed; they were good to go. But then I read the two episodes of the series and didn’t like them. They were horrible. I asked them if that was going to be sanctioned and to my delight, CEO Tarun Katial also believed it to be terrible.
I was watching what would they do? Will they really go through with this? Because if they said yes, I would definitely say no and so would Tarun. I was really impressed by that because sometimes when you are creating a platform like this, you try to fill everything in and put up as much content as you could. The reason that he was conscious about the quality and saying no to a big project was admirable. That’s when we got to talking and he told me that he had this other project. It’s about a pilot who is not in the best of mental health and asked me would I like to do it.
What made you decide to confirm this web series?
He gave me the book which Priya Kumar had written. I read the book then director Vijay Lalwani came and I wanted to see how he had broken it down from a screenplay point of view and what my character was all about. He gave me a lot of insight into what its treatment was going to be and how he wanted to do it. It started looking very exciting and when I read the first four episodes, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is good!”
Do you believe that the rising popularity of web shows would somewhere affect the culture of cinema viewing in India?
I think the audience is changing rapidly in our country. Like the last few films that have actually been super successful are not dominated by big stars. They have been dominated by good content. So, I think that’s what it’s moving towards. If we give good content to an audience, they are going to want to watch. Word of mouth plays a big hand. The audience today even on these OTT platforms are getting access to amazing work internationally, global works, not just work coming out of India. It’s opening their minds that with a subscription, they can have such a wonderful library of great shows with all kinds of genres. So, we will have to, as a film industry, pull up our socks to really get them out there.
Were you approached by some other digital platforms also before ZEE5?
There were a lot of people who came trying to do something with some platform or the other. I believe be it Netflix or Amazon or Jio, they all are very good. There were a couple of people that had come from Amazon at some point, but I can’t remember what they offered me.
It has been almost 18 years in the Industry for you. What, according to you, was the turning point of your career?
Every day is a turning point. Either you are going backwards or forward, you are turning somewhere or the other. I would say there are films that did really well with the audience where I ended up really hitting the character and the performance out of the park. I have given a few of those which have gotten me a lot of appreciation and accolades and a lot more work too. Films like Om Shanti Om (2007), Rock On (2008), even D-Day (2013), Daddy (2017) and Raajneeti (2010) were the ones I enjoyed most working on.
Daddy and Paltan (2018) both films had excellent performances by you, but somehow they did not do well commercially. Does it hurt when your hard work does not pay off?
Yeah, of course! You make a film for it to work. You want more and more people to go and watch it. For Daddy, I wouldn’t say it didn’t work because it did phenomenally well in Maharashtra because the character was Maharashtrian.
You know what is the case with gangster drama that people are still getting used it. With web-series and all, they can now differentiate that okay this is a gangster film. What you can do with a web-series is that you can go all guns blazing. You don’t need to remove certain language and you can do everything to make it look more real. With films, you are restricted because of censorship.
So Daddy, for me, did really well in these regions like Maharashtra, Goa and some parts of Karnataka. In the North, people didn’t connect with the character. But now everybody there who has seen it on Amazon is like, ‘Dude, what an amazing film!’ I think good films get seen finally. Yes, we did not make good money, which is upsetting (laughs). But each film comes with its own destiny, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t work.
Any recent web show that really entertained you?
I just saw up Mirzapur a couple of days back and I keep telling everyone to see it. I don’t know if I am marketing The Final Call or Mirzapur (laughs), but it was amazing. I really was pleasantly surprised. My mind was blown when I saw that. I was like, ‘Wow man, it is such good stuff!’
The Final Call starts streaming on 22nd February only on ZEE5.