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Kerala Crime Files’ Rahul Riji Nair: We knew we would have the first-mover advantage, but it wasn’t a strategic move

Rahul Riji Nair has produced Kerala Crime Files, Disney+ Hotstar’s first Malayalam web series

Kerala Crime Files’ Rahul Riji Nair: We knew we would have the first-mover advantage, but it wasn’t a strategic move
A poster of Kerala Crime Files and (right) Rahul Riji Nair

Last Updated: 11.46 AM, Jun 21, 2023


Director Rahul Riji Nair, whose movies have both National and Kerala State Film Awards, will be venturing into a totally territory with Kerala Crime Files, Disney+ Hotstar’s first-ever Malayalam web series. While he’s producing the police procedural, he is nailing the first-mover advantage with Sony LIV’s first Malayalam web series titled Jai Mahendran, which is also writing and producing.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Rahul, who had previously helmed Dakini, Ottamuri Velicham and Kho-Kho, talks about transitioning from movies to web series, Kerala Crime Files and writing for the long-format medium.

Aju Varghese and Lal in Kerala Crime Files
Aju Varghese and Lal in Kerala Crime Files

What prompted you to take the plunge to web series format?

As a filmmaker and a producer, I wish to work in and explore all formats. I have done documentaries, short films, music videos and films. Long-format storytelling is something that we haven’t attempted before and have always wanted to try our hands at. This medium also excites me as a filmmaker. That was the inspiration for trying out something like this.


When the project was first greenlit, did you know that it could be the first-ever Malayalam web series to be mounted on such a scale?

We had an idea, because we were also interacting with other OTT platforms, apart from Disney+ Hotstar. So, we knew that it could be the first mainstream web series in Malayalam. In fact, we have also tried to fast-track it to achieve this goal. We are also producing Sony LIV’s first web series, Jai Mahendran.

This wasn’t planned though, but we always knew there was this big opportunity for us to have the first-mover advantage. Fortunately, it became feasible too. The reason for that could be that during the lockdown, I had this gut feeling that long-format storytelling will be active in Malayalam soon especially with OTT subscriptions beginning to rise and trends changing.

Fundamentally, it’s the market demand that drives all of this, and I felt the pandemic and lockdowns created that market potential. So, during a time when we were all stuck in our homes, we were actually planning content for web series. One such content idea is what we are making for Sony LIV. That anticipation has helped us.

Aju Varghese and Lal in Kerala Crime Files.
Aju Varghese and Lal in Kerala Crime Files.

You are a director of National and Kerala State Award-winning films. So, when you are producing a series like Kerala Crime Files, do you function in the capacity of a showrunner because there’s also director Ahammed Khabeer at the helm?

For Kerala Crime Files, I am not the showrunner, but for Jai Mahendran, I am. That’s because the latter is helmed by a debutant director. Ahammed has already directed two movies. Also, showrunner doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has creative control. A showrunner basically is a single point of contact for the OTT platform to get the things done, according to me.

In foreign shows, there are series where the ‘created by’ credit is given to the production house and not the director. Sometimes when the book serves as the source material for the show, the author is credited as the showrunner. That doesn’t mean they have creative control over it.

For Kerala Crime Files, Ahammed and I only had a few creative discussions in the initial stage. Apart from that, there wasn’t much contribution from my side on a day-to-day basis.

Kerala Crime Files also belongs to the crime-thriller genre, which is probably the most explored one on OTTs with true crime documentaries, crime movies and series. So, to do a series with mainstream actors, based on true events and in the crime genre must have been like checking all the right boxes for the OTT platform?

Frankly, it wasn’t a strategic move at all. In fact, from my discussions with OTT and studio executives, I got the picture that crime thrillers and crime dramas form the vast majority of ideas pitched to them. The reason OTT platforms are releasing such content frequently is because there’s obviously a demand for it. People are watching it.

But we didn’t approach this series that way at all. Kerala Crime Files doesn’t have serial killings; it revolves around a murder and the ensuing straight-forward investigation. It’s a police procedural. We liked the story and the element that we mention in the trailers – ‘Shiju, Parayil Veedu, Neendakara – a fake address’. That is what hooked us about the whole subject. Fortunately, there weren’t any other parties discussing other crime-related subjects with Disney+ Hotstar and so, we got the chance to make the first series in that genre in Malayalam.

A still from Kerala Crime Files
A still from Kerala Crime Files

The writing and conception of a web series is also markedly different from a movie, in the sense each episode should have elements that would want to make the viewer watch the next.

Kerala Crime Files is written by Ashiq Aimar, so I don’t know much about his process. However, I have written Jai Mahendran. As a writer, I am still discovering this format because it has a lot of potential, in terms of how to develop your characters and take the plot forward. For films, you have the limitations of an interval and duration. Web series offer you several possibilities to overcome these, while writing. But as a writer, I am still new to it.

Of course, every episode should have a prologue, an epilogue and enough for the viewer to watch the next. Not every series needs a cliffhanger, it’s used mostly in thrillers. You only need something that urges the viewer to switch to the next episode. It can be anything, it doesn’t have to be the most exciting bit in the episode. It can be an emotion that reflects throughout the episode or even humour. As a writer, web series also have a structure. It’s different from the conventional three-act structure that we are used to in films. But there’s a lot of freedom associated with it too.

So, I am curious to know how the audience will accept it. We still don’t know how long-form content in Malayalam will be accepted by our audience on an OTT platform. When you know those results too, that would give you more freedom to express your ideas.

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