Writer Priya Kumar on life before and after 'The Final Call'

Writer Priya Kumar on life before and after 'The Final Call'

An author, a motivational speaker and now a screen-writer for ZEE5’s The Final Call, it's impossible to slot Priya Kumar into a box. Having successfully adapted her novel I Will Go With You: The Flight of A Lifetime into a web series featuring Arjun Rampal, Javed Jaffrey, Sakshi Tanwar, Anupriya Goenka and Neeraj Kabi in the lead roles, the writer is on cloud nine but is equally aware of the pressure to deliver more the next time around. ZEE5 has already bought rights to adapt another novel of hers, titled The Wise Man Said. The author of the moment discusses life before and after The Final Call.

The focus on novels and books for visual adaptations (regardless of films or the digital space) is more than ever before. Do you think these are welcoming times for writers?

I think this is the best time for writers. If people have a story to tell, there's no better time than now, the sun is shining, go pick your pen and start to write. There are enough takers and there's, in fact, a scarcity of good writers.

The decision to adapt your book into a series like The Final Call happened when the digital space wasn't as evolved as now...

The Final Call as a story couldn't have been adapted in a film format, it needed time to establish characters and find a more flexible medium. So, even if I wrote the story in 2015, it took four years for it to be made into a web series. The fact that it was a spiritual thriller, a genre that has never been explored in the OTT platforms, helped the launch of the book. Even though it came at a time when people were only testing waters in this space, it had the uniqueness to stand out among the rest.

Between screen-writing and novel-writing, what was more challenging?

Writing a book is always easier. Web-series is more challenging because a lot is at stake. Book doesn't involve huge investment, to begin with, you are the writer, you need to write it and that's about it. To make a series where there are huge financial investments, you need to consider the audience. When you write a book, the audience is at the command of the writer. When it's a web series, the writer is in command of the audience. So, there's a lot of pressure on the writer to keep the audience hooked and get them back to watch the next episode.

Given the gamut of characters that your book had, did it pose difficulties to be visually reimagined as a series?

The good part was that we had a very good team. Right from the producers to the director to the co-writers, everybody was on the same page and it worked to our advantage. Everybody came from a similar background and thinking. So there wasn't too much of 'push and pull', it was very harmoniously executed series where everybody was in sync. Even if certain allowances were taken, I trusted them to go ahead with it.

What were the factors that went behind Arjun Rampal's choice as a lead protagonist?

I believe it was his look. When you're looking for a senior character, someone like Naseeruddin Shah would have been a natural fit. And Arjun Rampal had an army background and he, very neatly, slipped into the role of an airforce officer. His looks worked right in the initial stages. His acceptance of the role was a bonus.

Was it relieving to not have the commercial pressures of a theatrical medium?

A web series has a different business model in comparison with the theatrical one. The latter depends on the first weekend to draw most of its collections. It's very expensive to host the content at cinemas. In web series, the returns are expected to come over a timeframe. It takes time for the content to go out into the market. If I like a web series and enroll subscription for one month, there's no guarantee that a user will like the platform always and he/she might cancel their subscription too. The pressure is not on one series alone but the total churn out of the OTT platform.

As a writer, do you get the liberty of choosing the platform that you work with?

You can choose any platform where your story could fit in, but it's important for the platform to believe in your story as well. ZEE5 made a bold step by taking my story because my stories generally have a spiritual undercurrent. The trend these days is to have a mix of violence, sex, and nudity thrown in. One should be particular about not pushing their content to a platform that might not do justice to their content.

Did the series actually impact the collections of the novel?

The sales of the book started increasing right from the day ZEE5 had announced the series. It's a big deal for a book to be adapted into a visual medium. It is an author's dream, so obviously the sales multiplied immediately after the announcement when the series was not even made. So, we re-did the cover of the book mentioning 'The Final Call' for someone who could identify the novel with the series. It was just a celebration of the series. The sales took a further jump upon the release.

Ultimately, the web medium has provided a lot of work for your author contemporaries too. Hope you're happy for them too...

Absolutely. For all good stories, there is an avenue now. Unlike movies, it's not limited by the number of releases per year. With OTT platforms, the content is available all the time, it's a great opportunity for the writer community. But, authors should not put pressure on themselves and aspire about their novel being made into a series. Focus on writing a good book is important and everything else only comes later.

Because the responses for the web series are so scattered, how did you evaluate if you were successful with your attempt at writing 'The Final Call'?

ZEE5 was very meticulous in putting together the feedback about the series. I have read every single comment. A person was compiling every comment posted on the internet about the series, be it reviews, features, interviews, and video. In that whole collection, there was only one comment where the reaction was negative. On the whole, the praise was so overwhelming that it's going to be a lot of pressure for the second web-series. Luckily, the audience reaction has been unanimous and that's a great compliment to the team for having done such a fabulous job. I enjoy the pressure to deliver better stuff to audiences now.

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