I co-produced Pepper Chicken to showcase Assam and Northeast to mainstream media: Dipannitha Sharma

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The whole country has come closer to each other thanks to OTT platforms, says the actress from Assam.

Dipannita Sharma has proved her mettle as an actress in movies like Ladies V/s Ricky Bahl and Jodi Breakers. Now, she has stepped into the shoes of a producer with the film Pepper Chicken, which has been released on OTT platform ShemarooMe Box Office. “The decision to co-produce the film had many factors to it as it includes my love for my homeland Assam. That attachment prompted my decision to co-produce the film under our company (North East Film Studio),” she says.

In an interview, she tells ottwatcher.com reporter Saira Hussain how she has come to co-produce Pepper Chicken through her own production company, the significance of this movie, her passion for films, ongoing and upcoming projects in the OTT space, and her take on OTT platforms and their relevance in these days. Excerpts from the interview:

After showing your acting caliber as a stupendous performer in mainstream Bollywood movies like Ladies V/s Ricky Bahl and Jodi Breakers, what prompted you to debut as a producer?

Thank you for the complements and noticing my acting caliber. It has always been my focus to keep breaking out of the boxes which people, society or the industry tries to put you in. I turned out to be a co-producer for this film; somehow, it was an organic decision. First, I came on board as an actor for this film, and initially there was no thought of being a co-producer. And then for various reasons, it turned out conducive for me to be a co-producer and support a film like this. The cast and crew and other technicians of this film are with some connections from Assam and the Northeast. The entire movie was shot in Hindi language and it was a myth-buster for me: that we are shooting a Hindi film in Assam and the cast and crew from Assam can make content-driven Hindi film for the mainstream media.

My company, North East Film Studio, which I had founded along with co-partner Saugat Bhattacharya, aims to promote the Northeast of India to the front and create awareness about the region, particularly Assam, my homeland. Some way co-producing this film helps in bringing Assam and the Northeast to the forefront or to the notice of the mainstream media. And also, to give out the message that mainstream films can be shot in these parts of the country, like shooting a film in Goa.

Dipannitha Sharma with Pepper Chicken director Ratan Sil Sharma

Any particular aspect about the movie Pepper Chicken that attracted you to produce it?

The script was very strong for me and as an actor; I did love my role in the film. The decision to co-produce the film had many factors to it as it includes my love for my homeland Assam. That attachment prompted my decision to co-produce the film under our company (North East Film Studio). Projecting Northeast well in the rest of the country has been the aim of the company, and I am proud and happy that we have begun our journey with a film like Pepper Chicken.

OTT is the way to go. It has opened doors for so many independent films, shows and various kinds of topics and content that a few years ago weren’t possible.

Dipannitha Sharma

Can you elaborate on the challenges you encountered while producing and acting in the movie? How has it been working with the cast and crew during the production of the movie, especially with all the Covid protocols in place?

We shot Pepper Chicken in 2019, during the pre-Covid period. As an actor, the challenges mostly faced were during the night shoots at the Chandubi jungle of Assam. There was no telephone network. We had a very small unit and we shot in one schedule of about 20 days. There were wild animals in close proximity, and for an action scene, the crew had to clear some snakes from the area. These were challenges that probably were part of the excitement and fun of shooting a thriller. What is a thriller without some of these exciting stories!

As a co-producer, if you are an actor and a co-producer you don’t just come with a business mind; you already have an attachment with the script. And when I came in as a co-producer I was already signed on as an actor. And at that time, I was so convinced about the content that I decided that I would go with it no matter what. There were of course challenges; anyone who’s supporting independent cinema goes through it. The conviction of the script and the team that had gathered to make this film kept us going. We had challenges through the making and during post-production as well. And there were different opinions about certain things during the production time but we eventually came on the same page. And that’s what matters at the end of it, and the results are for everyone to see.

With the rise and rise of OTT platforms, do you feel that content-driven cinema has received a new lease of life?

Yes, I really do think that this is a great time for all kinds of content. Thanks to OTT platforms, especially with Covid, we honestly don’t know what the future of theaters is. And we all hope that theatres will open. But currently, OTT is the way to go. It has opened doors for so many independent films, shows and various kinds of topics and content that a few years ago weren’t possible. Because at that time we were only thinking of, ‘are we making a film for multiplatform or for single screen and what audience are we making it for’. But today those lines are completely blurred. Today, the whole world, and the whole country, has come closer to each other thanks to OTT platforms. And I really feel that it is our future.

I don’t think OTT platforms will ever be abandoned. Even when the theatres begin, there will be a perfect balance and the demand for OTT platforms will always remain.

Dipannitha Sharma

According to you, what is the transformative impact of OTT platforms on the entertainment industry in the country?

The transformative impact is that as long as you are convinced about the content you are creating, thanks to OTT, you will find your audience. You don’t have to constantly think about whether it is multiplex audience or single-screen audience. Those lines are completely blurred when it comes to OTT and that is very encouraging.

The fact is it has space for such varied content. There is nothing like ‘this will work and this won’t.’ Anything can work when it comes to OTT platform. You just have to make honest content and have a way of releasing it on an OTT platform and you will find your audience.

Pepper Chicken is a huge example because it is a psychological thriller. And if we look at the story line it’s not something that you will see every day. A few years ago, we would have been worried about what kind of audience is going to watch it. But today with OTT we knew that with a platform like ShemarooME it will reach the right audience and it has. As I said we don’t know about the theatre scenario. People are getting extremely comfortable watching content at home. It’s revolutionary; the OTT space is creating path-breaking content and has been successful in it.

Any future projects you plan to roll out as an actor or producer in the near future? Will you be associating with OTT platforms in the days to come for more projects?

Yes, I would absolutely love to do more work in the digital space, for OTT platforms. I have completed another film for Zee5, Raat Baaki hai, which is also in the thriller genre. We shot it in Rajasthan. It’s going to release very shortly as well. That’s one complete project on the digital space. I also completed another film recently. It is also for an OTT platform. There is a lot happening. Right now, I don’t hear much shoots resuming for theatre releases, but a lot of content is being created for OTT platforms, because this is the time when everyone is sitting at home. So, people are looking for a lot of content to consume. That’s encouraging. And as a producer, I would like to take baby steps, make my decisions carefully. We are working on a couple of projects. My beginning as a producer with Pepper Chicken has been sort of a dream come true! Yes, I am keeping my fingers crossed and I hope to be on the right path.       

The Covid-19 has been a blessing in disguise for OTT platforms. With theatres shut, OTT release is the only way out. But, will the audience abandon OTT platforms and throng the theatres once life returns to normalcy after the pandemic?

People have been sitting at home for so long; they might go crazy when theaters open. I do not disagree with that because I myself might be like that, but even before Covid there was huge audience for ‘at-home consumption’ and for ‘theatre.’ So, I think it can totally survive parallel and there is no way that something that is so convenient and comfortable from the confines of your home can ever go out of style or demand. About ten years ago, what would we do when we come back home from a hectic day of work? We put on the TV. Now when we have bigger better stuff to watch within the confines of our home, why would we not put that on? So, I don’t think OTT platforms will ever be abandoned. Even when the theatres begin, there will be a perfect balance and the demand for OTT platforms will always remain. It is so convenient; why anyone would abandon it, when there is such great content available to consume.