Exclusive! Alexx O'Nell Opens Up On OTT Release Of Roohi Afzana & Working With Ex-Girlfriend Shama Sikander For His Song(Pic credit: shama sikander/twitter)
Exclusive! Alexx O’Nell Opens Up On OTT Release Of Roohi Afzana & Working With Ex-Girlfriend Shama Sikander For His Song(Pic credit: shama sikander/twitter)

Alexx O’Nell recently created waves in the Hindi entertainment industry with his portrayal of Bob in the Disney + Hotstar series Aarya. The show has Sushmita Sen in the lead while Alexx as Bob is another very integral character.

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Apart from his lovely performance, Alexx O’Nell also stunned his fans by learning the shlokas of Holy Bhagavad Gita. He not just learned the shlokas but also recited them very well.

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During a recent conversation with us, Alexx O’Nell talked about how it was working in Aarya with Sushmita Sen. Meanwhile his upcoming film Rooh Afzana with Janhvi Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao & Varun Sharma is also reportedly slated for a digital release. We asked him about his thoughts on the film’s direct OTT release. Read the excerpts from the interview below:

Q: Considering the positive feedback that Aarya has received, do you think it would be wise to release Roohi Afzana too on an OTT platform keeping in mind the current situation? In fact, there are rumours that it might release on an OTT platform.

Alexx O’Nell: One of the things that have frustrated me for many many years is that audiences who want to see my films often times can’t because they either miss the theatrical run, or the films don’t theatrically release in their territories at all. As OTT platforms began building massive catalogues, many of my films began living their second lives on OTT, and often in territories like the US and Europe where they weren’t previously released. (By the way, this has also been true of content of mine that released in South India becoming available in the North and vice versa.) In many cases these second-lives have been more illustrious then their time in the theaters was. A great example of this is Madrasapattinam and Urumi which were massive hits in the south but are now available in many other territories, or Main Aur Charles and Chittagong which had short theatrical runs, but about which I continue to get fan mail to this day as new viewers discover them. And where they’re not on OTT, they’re available illegally online. Content owners need to recognise that after all the hard work of making and promoting a project, it stands to reason that it WILL get seen, the question is whether that will be via legitimate means, or piracy. And owing to the massive difference in quality, the vast majority of viewers prefer to experience the official high-definition prints, not granny bootlegs.

So, I am extremely happy at the rise of OTT, but there is still a long way to go. And unfortunately, in the meantime, piracy fills the gap in far too many territories.

With regards to Roohi Afzana and films like it that were planned and completed before the pandemic with the intention to release theatrically, their financing and budgeting was naturally constructed with the expectation of traditional box office revenues. The makers will have to work with streaming platforms to find a middle ground that will allow them to redirect these kinds of big-budget projects to digital distribution and still re-coup their investment. And though the economics are certainly not easy, there’s evidence that this is already successfully happening. Gulabo Sitabo on Amazon Prime is one good example, as is the extensive slate of theatrical releases that Disney+ has announced will now premiere on their platform.

Equally complex is the way forward for projects that were put on hold due to the pandemic and need to resume shooting as soon as it is safe to do so. My Bengali epic Golondaaj starring myself opposite West Bengal superstar Dev Adhikari is one such film that is nearly done, but for a few days.

Aarya was always meant to be a digital release, the challenge was completing the series and successfully promoting it in the midst of the lockdown. Roohi Afzana (and for that matter Golondaaj, Rani Rani Rani, Banarsi Jasoos, Dr. Rakhmabai, Chehre, etc.) was meant for theatrical release, but thereafter would no doubt have gone on to feature on OTT. While nothing compares with the exhilaration one feels on opening night, seeing the film on the big screen, I don’t think that we should be waiting for Theatres to re-open and I would be extremely supportive of any decision that gets these films to as wide an audience as possible, as soon as possible.

Alexx O’Nell also opened about his work experience with legendary stars like Chiranjeevi and Amitabh Bachchan in the past.

Q. Your last South India release was Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy. How was it working with Chiranjeevi, and being a part of an Amitabh Bachchan film for the second time after Cheeni Kum?

Alexx O’Nell: To be honest, though I spent a great deal of time with the SyeRaa team in Tiblisi (Georgia), South India, and East India, my contribution to the film was negligible. There are a few reasons for this but it was mostly due to scheduling. With my dates often committed weeks to months in advance, very little buffer days between them, and therefore almost no room for error, Sye Raa… with its frequent date changes was a huge scheduling challenge. You see, I tend to shoot multiple projects simultaneously, and if one project is interfering with my ability to live up to my commitments to my other projects, whether big or small, I have to stand my ground. My Manager Shreeda (of Metta Talent, Mumbai) does everything she can to negotiate date changes, but sometimes, as with Sye Raa, that means my role suffers. And sometimes, as with another massive budget South Indian multi-starer I was shooting earlier this year, I simply have to back out entirely.

I have no regrets about working on Sye Raa though, I had a delightful time with the team, truly enjoyed spending time with Chiranjeevi (and reconnecting with Assoc Director Balakrishnan Thevar and actor Jagapathi Babu), and made some lifelong friends in the UK, Georgia, and South India. But in terms of a professional outing, I would instead point to the other films I was shooting at the time including Roohi Afzana, Rani Rani Rani, The Brave Child, and Chehre. And when not shooting, I was preparing my debut singles and music videos Still On My Mind and Twenty Days, which are extremely close to my heart.

Q. You have collaborated with your ex-girlfriend and good friend Shama Sikander for another single, Twenty Days. It is often said that it is difficult to remain friends with your exes, but how has your relationship with Shama grown in the last few years?

A. Shama was not only my girlfriend, but also the motivating force behind the recording my music, and she influenced how the audio of the songs ultimately shaped up. She was there in the studio with me and Music Producer Bharat Goel every step of the way. Beyond that she played a huge role in organising and executing the videos. And yes, she even appears in Still On My Mind and Twenty Days. I’ve often said these songs and videos are as much hers as they are mine, and they would neither look nor sound the way they do without her magical touch.

I agree it is difficult to remain friends with exes, mainly because while you may still care for each other immensely, you need to recognise that the dynamic has changed, and be respectful of the new people in each other’s lives. I’m extremely happy for Shama because she is in a much healthier place physically and mentally than she was when we were together. They were incredibly difficult times for many reasons i dont want to get in to. And now, though we do not meet often, we are indeed in touch from time to time. With regards to Still On My Mind, she was happy to see the video and the music sent out into the world, and she wished me well. I think she looks stunning and performs beautifully in both Still On My Mind and Twenty Days – and she deserves every ounce of praise that she has been getting.

Q. Sweta Keswani and you had parted ways on an amicable note. Are you guys still in touch?

Alexx O’Nell: No, Sweta and I are not in touch.

After our breakup, she spent more and more time in the US, while I was primarily in India and Europe. We drifted apart for the next few years and she eventually remarried there, has a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, and a wonderful life that I absolutely do not want to impose upon. We do still have a number of common friends, so from time to time I hear about all the wonderful things happening in her world, and it makes me happy to know that she’s happy. I heard that she recently began acting again which was great news, she’s a fabulous actor. I think that if she had remained in India this new wave of excellent OTT content would have suited her well, but perhaps she’ll see that kind of success where she is – and I hope she does.

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