Barun Sobti: A Resilient Act

“If you come directly off television to OTT, usually people are not willing to place their bets on you.”

Having grown up smitten by the character of the angry, young, elitist Arnav Singh Raizada (ASR), essayed by Delhi boy Barun Sobti in the popular TV show Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? (IPKKND) in 2011, it is a bit strange to see him play a hard-hearted cop in the OTT crime thriller Kohrra. Sobti’s role of assistant sub-inspector Amarpal Jasjit Garundi of Punjab’s Jagrana Police Station is hard to gulp at first, but two Kohhra episodes later, the compelling content not only creates empathy for the seemingly unlikeable character but also helps grasp how online streaming platforms give actors the opportunity to showcase their talent and range.       

When broached with the topic of how OTT has improved things for television actors over a sunny morning video call, Sobti sitting snug in his living room says, “If you come directly off television to OTT, usually people are not willing to place their bets on you. There might be some exceptional cases, but it took me a very long time as I’ve been looking for good work for a while now. There’s no transitioning of sorts because the process of acting doesn’t change, execution alters a little bit – the research and effort that goes in, are the only things that change as does the world’s perspective towards you.” 

When Sobti read the script the first thing that crossed his mind was that Garundi was a character that could easily become dislikable. “He abuses everyone, thrashes them badly without any reason, has an extramarital affair with his sister-in-law, but also wants to succeed in life. The first thing I needed to do was not judge the character, because if I did, how would I perform him?” he elaborates. 

Unlike his TV shows, web series follow a very structured and well-researched approached. For Kohhra, Sobti participated in workshops. “A bunch of strangers come together to create a masterpiece. Apart from other things, the workshop conductors help in breaking the ice between the actors,” he says.  

Kohhra was shot over three months in Ludhiana and partly in remote areas of Punjab that needed two-three hours of travel time. “For a 7am shift meant starting at 4am and it was really cold. But that’s the commitment that everyone was making and hardly anyone was ever late,” he smiles.  

On the streaming platforms, Sobti debuted with the TV series Tanhaiyan (2017) for Disney + Hotstar and went on to act in the web series The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family (2018). In 2020, came his movie Halahal along with The Missing Stone and the psychological thriller Asur (2020), which ran into its second season this year. With two more shows to be premiered in 2023, Sobti’s hands are full.   

One change that he saw while working in Tanhaiyan was that people were willing to shell out money. “Before that, it was very experimental. It’s only when these major players started stepping in that everyone started realising that this is going to go on and the revolution is here to stay. Without financial backing it’s difficult to succeed even in the creative world.” 

The actor agrees that good content is being produced on these streaming platforms. “With respect to comparison between OTT and the other two media (TV and cinema), the former definitely offers better opportunity to write and create compelling content – it is long format and characters can be fleshed out.” 

Besides, unlike television shows, which would run for months and sometimes years, OTT serials run for a couple of episodes and result in quality control, which in turn also works in favour of the actors. Sobti says the quality control comes with respect to writing majorly, which is the steppingstone of the whole creative process. 

“Everyday programming is a thing of the past and now it is usually a bi-weekly or twice a month schedule,” he shares adding, “Moreover, daily programming has to go out of the window because it’s impossible finding a writer to create great content every day. For example, it took the writing team of Kohrra years of research for the script and Asur was written over eight years.”  

As an actor, working in OTT is very liberating. Television has a dependency on TRPs, and even though IPKKND gave him the opportunity to show his range, OTT is a totally different ball game. “In Kohrra, there was enormous amount of liberty. Garundi was not a one-dimensional cop who only does great things in life and sacrifices his left arm for small things. The idea was to create a complex character that is relatable yet that’s not been seen before,” he explains. 

In terms of visibility, having presence on global streaming platforms helps. Sobti, who has worked for a while, by his own admission, is getting calls of appreciation from around the world only now.  

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