Mayank Sharma’s directorial venture ‘Breathe’, starring R. Madhavan and Amit Sadh unspooled online as the second Indian original from Amazon Prime into the world of web series and streaming services.

The series was released in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, across 200 countries and territories worldwide. Mayank Sharma’s directorial acumen, along with the premise and the performance of the show’s leads, often stretch believability and brings into question the ideas of morality. He is previously known for assisting in films like ‘Table No. 21’ and ‘Chashme Baddoor’. The director spoke extensively to theMoviean about how digital distribution has issued a proper challenge to theatrical releases, but that has completely overtaken the mode and culture of theatre.

we realized that the story and characters would not have the same impact in 120 minutes

“’Breathe’ acts as a psychological drama, showcasing the lives of ordinary men who face extraordinary challenges. Questioning morality in the face of a possibility of death, of a loved one is one of the main ideas of the show. Should one be a ‘Protector’ or a ‘Predator’?”

The show follows the lives of Danny Mascarenhas (Madhavan), a football coach based in Mumbai, and Kabir Sawant (Sadh), an inspector of the Mumbai police with a gritty past. Although the character of Kabir Sawant can be considered to follow certain clichés which are associated with a role of this sort, Mayank Sharma, who penned the story, ensures that the character isn’t a two dimensional one.

The two individuals’ lives often intertwine and mingle, as they try to save the life of a loved one. Their circumstances often intermingle, and run parallel to each other.”

Maddy sir understood that the medium comes with its challenges and disadvantages

Considering the fact that both lead actors have featured more prominently in full-length feature films, Mayank decided to shoot his story as a web series, instead of a medium for which his leads were renowned for. In some ways, this allowed him to include more details to the story and not rush to an ending. Such circumstances may not have done justice to what Mayank wanted to portray.

As my co-writer (Vikram Tuli) and I were writing the screenplay for the series, we realized that the story and characters would not have the same impact and justification with a runtime of 120 minutes. Character development and an addition of important yet subtle details were only possible if there was a slow unfolding of the story; with more than a singular point of view. A show has its own USP in the fact that the experience is much more immersive for the audience. So, we decided to make it as a proper show.”

The content and medium can be quite imposing with a runtime of over 320 minutes, which sums to the length of three feature films

As with most directors and actors, collaboration and active participation in the process of filmmaking are both important. Mayank Sharma, Madhavan and Amit Sadh are no different. Sadh, known for his intense acting and demeanour, coupled with elements of method acting, decided to take the portrayal of Kabir Sawant to another level.
“When there were scenes concerning Kabir under the influence, Amit Sadh and I came to the mutual decision that he would gargle with wine before every scene. This would give the impression to the audience that the actor really was inebriated. His co-stars were not allowed in the secret either. His behaviour in the inebriated scenes, along with his dialogues changed the way his co-stars reacted to him in a non-verbal situation. This added more life and authenticity to the scenes, with his co-stars sometimes complaining that Amit had shown up on set drunk. This showed that our plan had worked.”

Considering the medium of the story, in the form of a web series, it can often consume more amount of time than the shooting of a feature film. The situation on the sets of ‘Breathe’ proved to be no exception, with Madhavan recently confessing to the fact that he had to face long hours of shooting. This could, to an extent, make the medium slightly more challenging for not only the actors but the directors as well.
“The content and medium can be quite imposing due to the fact that the content creation will have to show on screen, with a runtime of over 320 minutes. This equates to the length of three feature films. The content writing is a long process and must interest the audience enough in order for them to return to their seats for a second episode. Shooting for such a medium is no cakewalk either, as the show itself must not compromise on any aspect of the story, or miss out any important detail. All the technicalities of the medium must be handled with finesse, through pre-production. This, we can proudly say, has been achieved with ‘Breathe’.”

Amit Sadh would gargle with wine before every scene…This added more life and authenticity to the scenes so much so that everyone thought that he had shown up on set, drunk!

A show of this calibre has different nuances, which need to be taken care of accordingly. The differences with that of a feature film are evident, as Mayank states.
“The main issue with this medium is that the proximity between the viewer and the audience must be maintained. From shooting to post-production, the entire concept is radically different and more time consuming than that of a film. The cinematic experience cannot be skimped on, and the proximity must remain intact. Watching a series is more immersive nowadays, as people use their smartphones and tablets for doing so. The white noise around the audience has every chance of distracting them, but the content must be gritty enough in order to ensure the attention of the viewer despite this.”

people say that it’s difficult to make it into the industry for an outsider, but that’s not true because Hard work and creativity is what’s needed not ‘connections’

From content writing to content creation for the big or small screens, the process is never easy and offers ample opportunities for growth. This was the same in the case of Mayank, as he talked about his experience and journey from ‘Table No. 21’ to ‘Breathe’.
“After working as an Assistant Director for feature films, I was awarded an opportunity by Mr Akashdeep Sabir (producer) to direct an episode of a TV series which aired on Sony TV. I was awarded complete freedom in the selection of cast and technical crew. The episode was considered a success and gave me the platform to direct more mini-series for various channels. This lasted for about 2 years, with more chances of directing and producing commercials and films of a more corporate nature. I took a hiatus after this, in order to concentrate on script writing.

When it came to ‘Breathe’, a few real-life incidents and research led to the conceptualization of the series’ story. After I wrote the story, Vikram Tuli and I focussed on writing a screenplay for it. This lasted for a year, and I got a chance to narrate the screenplay to Mr Vikram Malhotra (Abundantia Entertainment). He was the first producer to hear my narration and instantly agreed to produce ‘Breathe.’

The story and concept of a series remain only a part of the total package, as a major part of the show’s appeal rely on the actors, and how they bring their characters to life on the screen. With the experience of R. Madhavan and the sheer brilliance of Amit Sadh on display, they had to bring their own ideas into the fold.
“It was an absolute pleasure to work with both of them for the series. Maddy sir is an absolute delight to work with, owing to his versatility and experience. He ensures that the director will remain comfortable with the work. He understood that the medium comes with its challenges and disadvantages, and provided valuable input whenever possible. His spontaneity and organic acting was on cue and gelled well with the cast and technical crew. He used to read the lines and give his input based on his feeling at the moment. In a work such as this, his experience is what makes our job easier. He caught onto the nuances of his character with such ease; his command on the craft is admirable. His understanding of the nuances is what made the scenes without any dialogue exhibit the dilemma and the thought processes that his character, Danny faces.

As for Amit, he is vastly different. His energy and preparation on set were on a whole different level. He and I went over the entire script together, and he knew each of his lines. He understood the medium well, and brought in important observations, as he watches a lot of international series. Drawing from his real-life experiences, he gave the character of Kabir more depth and appreciated the nuances of the character, providing inputs wherever he saw fit.
I am blessed to have both Maddy Sir and Amit as my leads. If you notice, both my leads are men of few words.”

As technology keeps advancing, so does the medium of entertainment. Films in online platforms have issued a proper challenge to theatrical releases, but have overtaken the mode and culture of theatre.
“The idea of watching a film on a personal screen and device definitely makes it more immersive and convenient. If the content that is created is good and satisfactory, it can still attract audiences. However, the high ticket prices at theatres, along with expensive food and beverages could mean that it would attract only serious customers and audiences who want a proper theatre experience. Anything usual or repetitive will not attract the audience, contributing to the fact that makers need to work even harder to attract their audience.”

Amazon Prime and Netflix have consumed a large portion of the market, as it makes the entire experience more convenient at a fraction of the price.
“Over the years, the options for online streaming and new-age content have been advocated by the convenience of the experience. The new generation has the power and choice to watch films and TV shows according to their time and preferences, with Smart TVs, smartphones and tablets available at their disposal.”

YouTube has often acted as the easiest and the largest platform for web series. However, most of the web series available online follow a certain set of rules and formulae, in order to appeal to the masses. As such, diversity is difficult to come by.
“Makers need to expose themselves to great international content online, whose successes will compel them to create better content. We have realized that this medium is attracting a large audience, who respond sharply to the content itself. Such a situation can compel makers to create content which will be gripping and grasp the attention of the audience.”

The new generation has the power and choice to watch films and TV shows according to their time and preferences, with Smart TVs, smartphones and tablets available at their disposal.

The idea of collaborating with a large online streaming website or company can be an exciting and lucrative chance. However, it comes with its own set of problems and challenges, as it can often be difficult to settle a deal with the companies themselves.
“I received great support from my producer, Mr Vikram Malhotra, as he brought Amazon Studios on board to create ‘Breathe’. Amazon Studios have a great creative team, who had me do a detailed episodic structure narration. Their confidence in the script and our vision enabled us to acquire the freedom we needed in order to execute. Since the completion of ‘Breathe’, their great excitement has been exhibited in their marketing of the show.
Amazon Prime Video acts as a great platform, with a global outreach while still maintain the local flavour for Indian audiences.”

After the completion and release of ‘Breathe’, it is imperative for Mayank to continue his creative work and think about future prospects, as he says:
“Abundantia Entertainment and the Amazon team are actively discussing the prospect and possibilities of a second season for ‘Breathe’.
I’m simultaneously working on a script for a feature film, as well as that for an original series.”

After the success of ‘Breathe’, there is no doubt that Mayank Sharma has established himself as a new powerhouse in the entertainment industry. As such, he left us and aspiring filmmakers with an important message:
“Dreams can turn into reality only if you are willing to believe and work for it. I have heard people say that it is difficult to make it into the industry unless an aspiring or budding filmmaker has some connection inside the industry itself. But I disagree and believe that to be an excuse. If you work hard, you will achieve what is due to you. Work hard on good content creation and actors as well as directors will appreciate your efforts. There is but one way: ‘Create great stories’.”

WATCH the trailer of Amazon Original ‘Breathe’:




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