Lockdown has increased viewership of digital content: Rajeev Khandelwal

Manik Gupta

New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) Actor Rajeev Khandelwal, who has been appearing on different OTT platforms, believes coronavirus-driven lockdown has given a 'massive surge' to viewership for the digital entertainment space as more and more viewers are embracing the medium.

Back in limelight with his Voot Original Show 'Marzi', the actor on Sunday will make his debut in tele-theatre with legal drama 'Court Martial' by Zee Theatre. It will have its premiere on television as well as the OTT platform.

'There is a massive surge in viewership for digital content now. I am getting calls from people who I never thought would ever switch to this platform but then they have no choice. For example, I got a call from my aunt who lives in a small town like Alwar, she was watching my show on digital,' Khandelwal told PTI.

Khandelwal, who made his digital debut with ALT Balaji's 'Haq Se', said earlier there were talks of how digital would change the world of entertainment in a year or two, but because of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown, 'the whole thing has changed within one month only'.

'I am glad that most of my shows, and now this play, are in digital and will get a bigger audience,' he added.

Having made a name for himself, first in television, then movies and now in digital, Khandelwal said he has always been very 'fearful' and 'nervous' of doing theatre and would 'create excuses' for himself for not performing on stage.

'I would love watching plays but could never push myself to do one, always saying 'nahi ho payega' (won't happen). In fact, it was during my first few visits to Bombay I had gone to Prithvi theatre to watch a play, there when I saw the stage and hall filled with the audience, I said to myself 'I Don’t think I can do it',' he said.

But 'Court Martial', thanks to its 'fantastic script' and the fact that many veteran NSD actors had performed it in the past, made the 44-year-old actor shed his inhibitions for good.

The teleplay, which was written by renowned playwright and novelist Swadesh Deepak in 1980s, follows the unusual trial of a junior-ranked army man convicted of murdering his senior officer.

Khandelwal will be seen in the role of Bikash Roy, an defence lawyer who goes deep into the shocking details behind the assault.

'Here the whole package was very tempting and the last nail in the coffin was it was Army based and I come from an Army background, my dad was in the Army and my brother is in the Army, so I was like the entire universe is conspiring to drag me into this play,” he explained.

That said, teleplay is still different from a traditional play.

Unlike theatre, it is adapted for television and is done without a live audience.

When asked Khandelwal he didn't deny any of it and said it was due to this reason that he got his 'high' on the job not on the day when it was shot but the day before that.

'The day before the original shoot we performed the whole play – 90 minutes – without any cuts in front of our director, creative team, channel people. I was so happy, I was like 'yeh kar daala isko bhi'.

'Also, we got a standing ovation. But more than that I in my head knew that I had done well and was finally through with this fear of stage and remembering long dialogues,' he added.

The actual shoot, he said, was done with three pre-decided cuts -- 30 minutes each. Elated with the whole experience of doing the play, the actor said 'ab sher ke muh khoon lag gaya hai' and he is looking forward to doing more plays in near future.

'Now since I have spent a considerable time with this play, I guess it is only ideal that I take this play to different cities, perform it in theatres in front of a live audience and take their feedback. Also, I am open to new scripts,' he said.

Khandelwal is presently at his holiday home in Goa, growing vegetables, reading 'Homo Sapiens' by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari and watching 'Money Heist' on Netflix. PTI MG MAH MAH