Since the streaming services began producing content, it brought the unique credit of ‘showrunner’. A showrunner is, as the name suggests, the one who runs the show. This person is usually responsible for the entire series and is the one taking the creative as well as the management decisions. The showrunner ensures that the script is locked, the budget is being adhered to, the members of the cast are taken care of, etc., but most importantly, they make sure that the creative vision of the show is protected. Often, writers double up as showrunners. We rounded up a few of the best in the business to talk about their journeys on their respective shows:
Gurmmeet Singh, who has worked on films like Don, Gandhi, My Father, Jodhaa Akbar, and Fukrey Returns, stepped into this world with Mirzapur after working on Amazon Prime Video and Excel Entertainment’s first web show, Inside Edge. But his Mirzapur journey had started as a director. He has taken up the mantle of the showrunner for the upcoming season.
“Puneet Krishna was the showrunner for the first two seasons. In the third season, I took over the role of the showrunner since I’ve been part of the team as a director since its inception,” says Singh.
According to him, the scope and responsibility of a showrunner depend on where the show currently is. “My biggest responsibility is to ensure that the new content is in harmony with the previous seasons, from how the characters talk and behave to their journey ahead, it is my job to ensure continuity and find similarities within the world we’ve built. If this is not done judiciously, the audience would not get invested in the twists and turns we will pull during the season.”
Elaborating on how the characters and plot lines are taken forward, he says, “When we started working on the first season, we had already decided the larger plot line and the arc for the season. 30 to 35 percent of the individual storylines and character arcs were developed while writing. But there are times when we change the direction of the character at a later stage, sometimes even while shooting.”
Ram Madhvani’s Sushmita Sen-starrer Aarya is moving to its third season. The Indian adaptation of the Dutch show Penoza, was developed with Disney+ Hotstar.
“When I began working with Disney+ Hotstar, I wanted to know the culture I was operating in. The thing with culture is that it is often not said aloud and is often guided by people running the show. In our case, it was Gaurav Banerjee and Nikhil Madhok. They were very helpful in guiding us. We were given a free hand on how we wanted to tell the story for the Indian adaptation,” says Madhvani about how it all began.
But it is not an easy task to adapt a show for an audience with very different sensibilities. “The core question for us was whether the Indian audience would accept the story of a woman who puts her father in jail. But we put into context that she’s a daughter and a wife, but she is also a mother who has to protect her children. It paved the way for us to reach the hearts of the audience. Our one decision was to talk about the notion of Dharam-Karam and the Bhagavad Gita,” reveal Madhvani. “I’m interested in making stuff for the family audience. Even today, when we watch TV with the family, it is in the living room where people walk in and out. So, I wanted to ensure that whatever I make is consumed and approved by the audience,” he explains, talking about his vision as the creator and the showrunner.
In an OTT space dominated by crime and suspense thrillers, it is rare to find a story about the regular life and struggles of the Indian middle class that one actually enjoys. This was precisely creator Shreyansh Pandey’s thought when he set out to make the first season of Gullak.
According to Pandey, the journey of a showrunner begins on day one of the series and ends on the last day. He says: “As a showrunner, you must keep the show going, from what you start with, and take it to its logical conclusion, be it a three-season or five-season journey. I was making my right and left brain strike a balance to deliver the quality that I wanted from day one. You often have multiple directors and writers working on the same season. It is our job to ensure that the show’s vision is kept sacrosanct.”
But the responsibilities and priorities might change with each season. “We wanted to make a clean comedy show in the first season. For the second season, we wanted to break the jinx of the second season, which many successful shows were victims of, and concentrate a lot more on the writing. For the third season, we wanted to release it at breakneck speed while maintaining the quality. I feel that every objective you take adds to the show’s viewership,” adds Pandey.
The International Emmy-winning show, Delhi Crime, which was originally written and directed by Richie Mehta, has got a new showrunner for its second season in Northern California-based writer, producer, director, and showrunner, Tanuj Chopra. “The producers were familiar with my work on Punching at the Sun, Staycation, Grass, and Chee and T. I had a similar sensibility and aesthetic as Delhi Crime. Richie has also been my peer, so it seemed like a good fit.”
Talking about taking over the mantle, he says: “We wanted to keep the style, the language, the characters, the handheld feel, the documentary approach intact.” According to Chopra, the idea was to sharpen film-making and add to its existing language. “We found organic ways to grow the scope, scale, and vision of the show while retaining what people loved about the show in the first place,” he adds.
Talking about the role of a showrunner, he explains: “A showrunner has to do a different thing on every single show. It depends on the demand for the show. It’s not always a fully defined role. Some shows are very screenwriting-driven and have a formula. The showrunner in such cases often emerges from the writing background. Delhi Crime required not just the film-making sensibilities and understanding of the writing, but also an in-depth idea of how to create the reality of the show and that was a crucial skill for the showrunner in this case.”
A showrunner must also be adept at multitasking and have a bit of knowledge of every department. “You need to be able to communicate with writers, directors, editors, and your production staff. You need to be a jack of all trades on some levels,” he says. “In my case, I was also directing the season and it was about getting the elements ready so that the show comes together when you’re on set. As a showrunner, you need to ensure that you are telling the right story and you have everything you need for it.”
Kota Factory’s world comes naturally to its creator and the showrunner, Saurabh Khanna. He is a product of Kota coaching institute and made it to IIT from there.
“While creating Kota Factory, we wanted to make a studious boy the hero as that was our target audience. I wanted to break the stereotype of the scholarly child being a doofus,” he reveals, talking about creating his protagonist.
He decided to film it in black and white as according to him, that represented the student life in Kota. “The students are mostly stuck in the world of books and see only black letters on a white page. Also, we were inspired by Roma.” After the first season was released on YouTube, the show was picked by Netflix. It happened after the show received 9.2 ratings on IMDB, the highest for any Indian show until then. “Once Netflix came on board, I narrated the season two finale. They liked it and the procedure to acquire the show began. I built season two and gave them a narration of all the episodes together. They had some constructive inputs which we readily accepted,” Khanna says about the show’s journey to Netflix.
(Featured Image: L to R: Ram Madhvani and Shreyansh Pandey)