Director Madhumita talks in detail about being at the helm of the unique Tamil comedy reality series, experience working with Vivekh and Shiva, and the influx of OTT platforms
The first-of-its-kind comedy reality series in Tamil, LOL - Enga Siri Paappom, released on Amazon Prime Video on August 27. With 10 comedians as contestants and the late Vivekh and Shiva as its hosts, the series with six episodes, had Madhumita at its helm. The filmmaker, who last directed the critically-acclaimed KD, says she is elated to have pulled off the project which features a bevy of talented artists on board. The contestants are required to make each others in the house laugh, but ensure that they don't laugh themselves. The one who manages not to laugh till the end will be declared as the winner, with a prize money of ₹25 lakh.
In an exclusive interview to OTTplay, the three-film-old director opens up on the challenges involved while helming the series, the reason behind the streaming platform choosing Tamil language for their entry in south, associating with the legend Vivek and the exposure OTT platforms have provided to filmmakers...
Going by the trailer, LOL - Enga Siri Paappom looks like a unique experience to the Tamil audience. How did the project shape up and what made you take it up?
As a filmmaker, one thing I always look forward to is challenging myself. Working in a different medium offers you a lot of challenges. A few years ago, I got the opportunity to direct Kamal Haasan for the first season of Bigg Boss Tamil. It was an interesting experience because it was my first tryst with a reality show. It was that experience which paved the way for this comedy reality series. The production house wanted me to come on board and it was quite interesting to join hands with Amazon Prime Video. I had watched the Japanese version, which I think is the original format of this show.
What according to you was the biggest challenge while directing the series?
For comedians, irrespective of the medium, reaction from the audience matters the most. It is, in a way, an interactive process. But here, on the contrary, the contestants aren't allowed to laugh when others perform or keep cracking jokes. So, it is difficult to gauge the quality of jokes when contestants try to make others laugh.
The whole concept of the series revolves around the ability to not laugh while others crack jokes. What were the criteria with which the ten contestants were chosen?
We wanted to have comedians who are popular among people through different platforms. Some of the contestants are popular through films, some through television and others garnered fame on social media. All of them have different set of fans. The contestants were also chosen based on their talent in delivering funny lines and coming up with impromptu comedies.
How did Vivekh and Shiva come on board as hosts?
When we were discussing who the hosts should be, we felt it would be good if we have two comedians who have contrasting performing styles. Vivekh sir is known for the social awareness he infuses in his comedy, apart from his trademark sarcasm which is quite popular among the Tamil audience. On the other hand, Shiva's strength lies in pulling off hilarious one-liners with him maintaining a poker face. Moreover, they have never worked together, which we felt, is another attraction of the series, which also marked their foray into digital avenue. It was amazing to watch them perform together. Though the contestants couldn't laugh because of the rules, people like us who worked behind the lens, had a gala time watching them coming up with funny one-liners and counters.
What were their initial response when they were approached to play hosts for the series?
They were really curious about the format of the show as they have never been part of something like this. We introduced them to the series which were released in Japanese and Mexican languages. Later, they were convinced about it and got excited about joining us. Vivekh sir indulges in a lot of preparations. He rehearses a lot in his mind before performing before others. He was quite enthusiastic about working with us and would often ask us details regarding the camera angles and other technical details. Shiva would keep cracking jokes on set. He used to instill confidence to all the contestants when they were concerned about participating for straight six hours.
The series first appeared in India with its Hindi version, which was released earlier this year. What made the makers come up with a Tamil version next?
Tamil audience has a flair for enjoying good comedies; it is a part of their culture, too. They have a great sense of humour. There are numerous comedy scenes from several Tamil films which enjoy huge following even after decades. There are many comedians who turned heroes as well. From the era of Senthil-Goundamani to Vadivelu-Vivekh to the current set of comedians, many generations love enjoying humour.
How do you think the OTT boom has transformed the manner in which people consume content?
I believe we have to evolve with technology and OTT avenues have penetrated every nook and corner of the world. Thanks to its endless possibilities, the series can now be watched by audience across the globe. Amazon Prime is watched in at least 200 countries. Though my previous film, KD, had opened to rave reviews, it garnered more visibility after it was released on Netflix. Though I'm all for the big screen experience, dancing and whistling while watching our favourite stars perform, we should appreciate the opportunities created by digital platforms.
What are your upcoming projects?
I'm working with a couple of OTT platforms for a series each in Hindi and Tamil, apart from two feature films in Hindi. I'm watching a lot of shows now, each of them offers different experiences in terms of learning and entertainment.