In more ways than one, Mirzapur — Amazon Prime Video’s newest original Web series from India, out now — is a story that isn’t suited for Bollywood’s traditional space: the big screen. None of it has to do with the fact that Mirzapur is an episodic drama, which allows writers to explore characters and chart subplots in manners that isn’t possible on film. Instead, it’s the characteristics and behaviour of those characters, and the level of violence and sex that India’s moral-driven censor board, the CBFC, wouldn’t allow.
“It’s very refreshing because there are very few roles written for women in which their sexuality is acknowledged,” Rasika Dugal, who plays Beena Tripathi, the second wife of the show’s big crime boss in Mirzapur, told Gadgets 360. “We don’t have these conversations about women. Usually, women are objects that have been sexualised, as objects of titillation or as objects of sympathy.”
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Films from India that have bucked that trend in recent years, the likes of Lipstick Under My Burkha and Veere Di Wedding, can be counted on one hand. Dugal remarked that the scripts she has read for TV shows in the past year have been “far more interesting” than any film scripts she’s read in the past few years. She believes that writers are possibly censoring themselves when it comes to writing for cinema, in contrast to streaming which isn’t regulated by the CBFC.
“Our films are certified in a very, very broad manner: it’s either U, U/A or A,” Ritesh Sidhwani, executive producer on Mirzapur, said. “But there is nothing in between. If you look at TV, you’ve a channel like Discovery Kids, which is only for 9-11-year olds. And there’s a show there, which I was quite surprised to learn, called Little Singham.”
Little Singham is an animated spin-off based on the Ajay Devgn-starrer 2011 action film Singham, which is itself a remake of a 2010 Tamil film. “They started with 60-70 episodes in concept and it’s reached 180-190 episodes,” Sidhwani added. “[That shows] there is an audience for every kind of story. With films, you can go to a 13, 15, and 18 [age bracket], but there shouldn’t be censorship. Beyond 18, once you’re an adult, you can’t tell me to cut something.”
Divyendu Sharma as Munna Tripathi, Abhishek Banerjee as Compounder in Amazon’s Mirzapur
But until the CBFC gets its act together, stories like Mirzapur‘s will be best told in the streaming domain. In fact, the ideal way to watch even Lipstick Under My Burkha is on Prime Video, which has the film’s uncensored version and not the theatrical release version that was subject to cuts, after originally being denied a release altogether.
That’s not the only way Mirzapur is pushing the envelope. Unlike the majority of filmmaking in India which still relies on ADR (automated dialogue replacement), colloquially known as dubbing, where actors re-record their lines in a studio after filming, Mirzapur made use of sync sound, in which the audio is recorded on location.
“Whenever someone mentions dubbing, I get upset. How will we recreate it in the studio?” Pankaj Tripathi, who plays the show’s central crime figure, Akhandanand Tripathi, asked rhetorically.
“Dubbing, I feel, cheats actors,” Divyendu Sharma, who plays Munna Tripathi, the son of Pankaj’s character on Mirzapur, added. “It’s like, ‘You said it once, now do it again.’ And this time, in a dark room, all alone. It’s so wrong to ask someone to repeat everything. And then, the person on the mic tells you, ‘We’re not getting the right emotion.’ Of course, that’s going to happen. That was filmed in extreme heat, and here I am wearing a sweatshirt in an air-conditioned room. I think it’s a crime to not use of sync sound in this day and age.”
But there’s one aspect that Mirzapur falls short in, technologically. Unlike some Prime Original series from the US, Mirzapur was neither filmed nor mastered in 4K. (Amazon’s previous scripted series from India, Breathe, was notably shot in 8K but received a 2K master.) 4K wasn’t considered for Mirzapur because of two reasons, says Prime Video’s India content chief Vijay Subramaniam, in that not many customers have access to the technology and the post-production infrastructure in India needs to level up.
“We will get there but I don’t think we are there yet,” he added. “Is [4K] important to us? Absolutely.”