Web series

‘I wanted a fun narrative about same sex romance,’ says ‘Romil and Jugal’ director Nupur Asthana

The web series currently streaming on Alt Balaji is a gay love story adapted from William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

It is love at first sight for Jugal. The minute he sees Romil, everything slows down around him and a song plays in the background – exactly like how he had imagined it to be if and when he fell in love. Nupur Asthana’s web series Romil and Jugal, now available on streaming app Alt Balaji, is full of these “filmy” moments (as she calls them).

In the second episode, Romil, the college heartthrob, gets his own introduction song. A chorus joins him as he dances on the college steps, plays basketball and sings about trading hearts. Jugal admires him from a distance, mustering up the courage to speak to the man of his dreams.

Romil and Jugal marks Asthana’s debut as a director for a web series. In the world of television, she is well-known for such shows as Hip Hip Hurray (1998), Hubahu (2002) and Mahi Way (2010). She has also directed the films Mujhse Fraandship Karoge (2011) and Bewakoofiyan (2014).

Romil and Jugal is a gay love story that is adapted from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Asthana loved the idea of reimagining Shakespeare’s renowned play as a love story between men. “It cannot get more revolutionary than that,” she told Scroll.in. “I’m a student of English literature and I thought of this as a challenge. Romeo and Juliet with boys! The script was first written by Anu Menon for a film. When I read it, I was thrilled by the idea and wanted to shoot it.”

Why a web series and why not a film?
The censor board would never have passed this as a film. At least at the time when we started the show – which was in December 2016 – there was no chance. I’m also under a contract with Yash Raj Films to make a film with them. So I could not have worked on another project in the meantime.

The script excited me and Alt Balaji was coming up around the same time too. We have not seen a story of this sort in mainstream cinema or any of the other platforms. In the indie space of course, there are ample stories about how hard it is to come out to one’s family, the hurt, anger and fear associated with it. I wanted to go beyond all of that.

In what way?
I wanted to move away from the narrative of angst to a more fun narrative about same-sex romance. I spoke to a lot of my gay friends about how things happen between them. I watched a few documentaries. At the same time, I knew I had to walk the fine line. I’m straight and I did not want to get brickbats from the LGBT community. I didn’t want to trivialise the narrative or make it pretentious.

The feedback I’m getting for the show today from the LGBT community is wonderful – LGBT groups are really excited about the series, they have requested for screenings. They recognise my intention to talk about the fun parts. Some of them have told me that they love the unabashedly filmy dream sequence in one of the episodes, for instance.

Many heterosexual people tell me that it is so easy to watch the show, that it is a normal love story. I’m saying, why not? We are all humans at the end of the day.

Romil and Jugal.

What opportunities does the web offer for a series of this kind?
The web gives one the freedom to not only put up a show like this, but to also explore these characters in depth. Jugal has come out but only to himself. Romil is in denial of his sexuality and is even dating girls. For him, the journey is tough because he has to come to terms with the fact that he is gay. And then, he has to come out to his parents. We had the screen time to get into the heads of these characters and thrash them out properly.

I could also delve deeper about how a family would react to their child coming out to them. The initial reaction of anger, hurt, rage – it is all there in the show. While a sense of comedy lingers on the surface, as you go deeper, it is just all so sad and poignant.

Does the internet today remind you of the good old days of television, the time of ‘Hip Hip Hurray’, perhaps?
Yes, I have realised the similarities between the web today and the heyday of television. When I made Hip Hip Hurray, I was very young. I remember that the channel wasn’t involved at all. It was just the creative team working together to create something we believed in. There was no interference with respect to the content.

It was only later that television went down the TRP route. With the web, it is a similar kind of scenario. The core creative team is the one that is working again to put it all together. The demands of TRPs or the opening weekend does not exist here. The show is still finding audiences and it is always going to be there on an app. People will keep discovering it and that’s the wonderful thing about it.

Hip Hip Hurray.

What role has ‘Hip Hip Hurray’ played in shaping your career?
I didn’t think too much when I made Hip Hip Hurray. I had just finished assisting director Ketan Mehta and was gung-ho about branching out on my own. I didn’t know how to raise money for a film on my own. I thought I would start out with television. I wrote something, ended up meeting Zarina Mehta, the producer, and it all fell into place. I was just lucky that I got such a great start.

Today I have stepped back from television because it is too hard. It is too TRP-driven, it’s just brutal. But people always tend to slot you. I get calls saying “Youth oriented series karte hain.”

I always feel that my strength is drama. I think there is a strong sense of drama running through all my work, whether it is Hip Hip Hurray or Mahi Way, or even Fraandship or Bewakoofiyan.

From Hip Hip Hurray, which was in the early 2000s to now, I’ve tried to see how young people have changed. I think I tend to be drawn to characters who are battling something.

But my next project will definitely not have any love story in it. I’m done.

Are you planning a second season of ‘Romil and Jugal’?
Of course. We are just waiting for more people to discover it. It isn’t one of the shows that people will immediately click on when they are on the app. There is a wide choice of heterosexual romances and spy thrillers that we have to compete with.

Nupur Asthana.
Nupur Asthana.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.