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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Escaype Live, trailer launch and press meet: Two Sidhharths, one JJ, many escaype artistes

Escaype Live, trailer launch and press meet: Two Sidhharths, one JJ and many escaype artistes

Disney + Hotstar, one of a handful of leading OTT platforms, has formulated what it calls the “biggest social thriller of the year”. They have named it Escaype Live and it is described as “the most relevant story of current times.”

Created and directed by Siddharth Kumar Tewary, it took three years to make, against an estimated six months, and will release only on Disney+ Hotstar, on 20th May.

How far would you go, to achieve instant fame and fortune? Well we have had a few programmes on TV that deal with singing, dancing and talents that defy definition. Escaype Live is close to the last category, dubbed “the first-of-its-kind social thriller”. Set in the landscape across the country, the series explores the different journeys of six regular Indians as they struggle to win fame and fortune, on a social media app called Escaype Live, which promises virtual diamonds as points (votes) and Rs. 3 crore to the winning contestant.

Present on the occasion, at Hotel Grand Hyatt in suburban Mumbai, were Siddharth Kumar Tewary, and the cast, including Siddharth, Jaaved Jaaferi (JJ), Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Swastika Mukherjee, Plabita Borthakur, Waluscha D. Souza, Ritvik Sahore, Sumedh Mudgalkar, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Jagjeet Sandhu, Rohit Chandel and child actor Aadyaa Sharma.

Escaype Live is a fictional narrative, penned by Jaya Mishra and Siddharth Kumar Tewary, that is likely to seem very true and real. The story features a bunch of “content creators”, with different paths, but one goal - to produce content that should go viral, to emerge victorious in a life-changing competition. Produced under Siddharth Kumar Tewary's One Life Studios, the nine-episodic series heavily emphasises the human tendency of being competitive and its drive to succeed. The essence of the series explores the lengths content creators and tech giants are willing to reach, to achieve their aspirations.

Traversing different cities of India, the series leveraged different dialogue writers for each city, to add regional authenticity. Dance Rani (a cute girl in her pre-teens, who just said “thank you”)’ story, based in Jaisalmer saw her dialogues being penned by Vinod Sharma, while Amcha’s lines were penned by Amol Surve. Similarly, Banaras-based characters of Meena Kumari and Sunaina’s dialogues were written by Ranveer Pratap Singh, while Darkie and Fetish Girl’s dialogues were penned by Jaya Mishra and Siddharth Kumar Tewary themselves.

Gaurav Banerjee, Head, Content Disney+ Hotstar and HSM Entertainment Network, Disney Star India, said, “As we expand our library of exciting thrillers, Escaype Live will also mark Disney+ Hotstar’s first-ever social-thriller that holds a mirror to our society.”

Talking about what made him take-up this one-of-a-kind series, director Tewary said, “I wanted to tell a story of the world we live in today, where social media is not just a habit, but has become a form of emotional expression. Life has moved beyond being liked and disliked or being followed and unfollowed. Whether social media as an entity is good or bad is depends on whose story we are telling and what they actually want out of their lives – are their dreams real? Or are they merely trying to ‘escaype’ their reality! At its core, Escaype Live gives us an insight into the minds of people living in the world of social media. Are we ready? Or are we already in it? For me, Gaurav and Nikhil, along with the entire team at Disney + Hotstar, has always displayed big ambition, and it’s their desire to push boundaries with original content choices that made them my first and only choice to collaborate with on this series.”

Siddharth, the director’s namesake, who plays the series lead, said, “What drew me to Escaype Live was the script and my character. It excited me that it dealt with social media, and while one has the freedom to do as they please, sometimes with anonymity and sometimes without, it also always brings up the ethical question of what is right and what is wrong. That to me is what makes the show explosive, and exciting.” It takes some believing that the Delhi-born, Chennai settled Siddharth, who has acted in multi-lingual films, has been in the film industry for over 20 years.

For Jaaved Jaaferi, this story about the technology climate impacting our lives is unique. He said, “The show is layered with intricately crafted characters, who have dual personas, in reality, and as content creators. Escaype Live is an intriguing tale that captures the majority of contemporary humankind’s desire to create a name, be remembered, and succeed; sometimes going to any length to achieve that goal. In this emerging digital era, the series is poignant, as it recognises the beauty as well as the darker side of social media. What convinced me to come on board was the sheer passion with which Sidhharth approached the subject, when he first met me, to sign me on.”

Jaaved, whose official age is 59 going on 60, just cannot be at that age. I have known him since the two of us were kids, and he cannot be 11 years younger than me. But I will take his word for it. He did seem a bit peeved when one after another, the glitterati said that they had grown-up watching his shows. Siddharth, however, jocularly reassured him that this was their way of hiding their guilt about their own age. In just one week, this was the second time that a Jaaved show was being announced, which is good for his career, whether he is 59 or 65. He quoted an appropriate sher (couplet) of Allama Iqbal, saying that good effort might not have par (wings), but it has parvaaz (flight).

Banaras (Varanasi) babe Shweta Tripathi Sharma, who plays a pivotal role in the series, said, “The rise of social media has taken the world by storm! While it comes with advantages, we have to evaluate a lot about its flip side as well. Escaype Live is one such story that talks about the same and its impact in today’s age and time! As soon as I read about the concept, I knew I had to tell this story because it was relevant and a much-needed conversation. The character I play is full of hope and love, someone I resonate with a lot. It is a surprise package! I am sure the audience will like her a lot.”

A star in West Bengal, Swastika Mukherjee was quite surprised when she got the call. “My Hindi is not too good, and I often get the gender wrong (a common Bengali issue, when speaking Hindi). But here was an opportunity to work in an environment where I would be challenged. Back in Kolkata, after doing so much work, whatever I do is usually okayed without a problem. Not so in Escaype Live. I needed a director to push me out of my comfort zone, and Sidhharth has done just that. What you will see on the show is his interpretation of my character, and not me just doing what I felt was needed.”

Fetish Girl Plabita Borthakur (sounds like an Assam connection) confessed that she was unsure about how to approach her character. She had little idea about what a fetish girl is supposed to do. “But Sidhharth did it for me. He showed me exactly how to do it. (Siddharth interjected with “Are you trying to say that there is another side to me?”). She was stylishly, but very modestly dressed, and gave all due credit for her appearance to the “Make-up and costume team”. The idea of a Fetish Girl is new, as far as I can recall, and it will be interesting to see how far will she push the boundary, with Indian audiences’ moral sensitivities in mind. If we go by what she wore at the event, it might be a bit tame.

Other speakers spoke too, but the two Sidhharths hogged the microphone and chipped in about 30 minutes together.

Escape has been shot across multiple, unique locations, including Benaras, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaisalmer, Mumbai, and Gujarat, during truly testing Covid times, to bring cultural relevance and show how social media is affecting people, even at remote places.

A really psychedelic entrance had been devised at the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, with many ultraviolet and other rays creating a rainbow effect. The stage, too, was imaginatively designed. Before you entered the seating area, you could take your picture against a choice of three backgrounds, and it would be mailed to you, they said. This is a common feature of many such gatherings, and I usually avoid getting photographed. But this time, I relented, because three of my friends in succession opted for it. The photo came by email, as promised. When things began to happen, 75 minutes after the scheduled time,

Jaaved was the first to take centre-stage, and then he walked away. When he reappeared, he spoke to three of the participants, each on a panel of mobile phone-shaped giant frames. The trailer was then shown, twice. Like most trailers these days, there was little you could make out about the show besides what had already been told to you. Oh yes! It was exciting, beyond doubt.

Compèring the show was a young Social Media star, Nikunj. He was too casual. Being informal is a good quality, but being super-casual, to the point of looking disinterested, is something that compères must avoid. Also, in an audience that consists largely of journalists, most of who are doing their job and are not there because of any fan following, to expect them to applaud ‘thunderously’ every time a name was announced or a personality came-up on stage, is too much. Yet, there was some applause, which worked for the show.

Why is there a y in ‘escaype’? To avoid trade-mark issues, escape being a dictionary word that cannot be owned? Or for any other reason? And what does ‘Live’ really signify, since the episodes have already been shot? The cast and crew made their escaype before explaining. What was then live, at 5.15 pm, was a feast not commonly laid out for journalists. If you sampled just one piece each from the spread of goodies on the buffet table, you were likely to have to skip dinner. For once, it was HIGH Tea, in the true sense of the word.

Trailer: https://youtu.be/CO8kImGw8lE

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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