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Mathivanan Rajendran

The Storytelling Shinobi

|Many Stories| Many Futures| Mathivanan Rajendran

Introducing Transmedia, its future in the Indian Context.

Before we tackle the beast, let’s look at an accepted definition of ‘Transmedia’ by Henry Jenkins, the man who identified the field. He defines Transmedia storytelling as a process where fiction gets dispersed across multiple channels and creates a unified entertainment experience, each medium contributing to the story in its own way.

Today, we the ‘always on’ generation, navigate through digital and real worlds rather effortlessly, from Mobile to TV to Computers to Social Media. Now, imagine being able to experience the SAME narrative across DIFFERENT media through DIFFERENT stories. Confusing? Let’s try this with an example.

Imagine watching Sholay in the Theatre, followed by a mini‐series on the internet describing the early life of Sambha and Gabbar in the valley, a Play exploring the life of Thakur before the accident and finally a video game with Veeru in his own spin off. You explore sub‐plots and characters connected by a single narrative with you at the focus, turning you the spectator into a participant. This is an example of a Transmedia experience that marketers are trying to create.

Transmedia is hot and has been hot for a while because:

Media Psychologist Pamela Rutledge attributes the success of this format of storytelling to its’ unconventional departure from using technology for its’ own sake and shift towards the human experience. There is a sudden emphasis on ‘story‐telling’ as opposed to the technologies used.

It’s easy to dub this new paradigm as a noisy multi‐channel effort to promote a brand. However, in the hands of the right storytellers is has the potential to have audiences craving for more.

Examples from a ‘Galaxy Far Far away’ and more:

No article about Transmedia is complete without a mention of ‘Star Wars’. This story about a ‘galaxy far far away’ successfully franchised a universe, which told multiple stories through 6 feature films, graphic novels, literature, games and even fan fiction. As a fan YOU had the option to experience the Star Wars universe through a touch point of your choice.

During ‘The Matrix Trilogy’, the Wachkowski brothers collaborated and often directed episodes of the animated series ‘Animatrix’ and The Matirix video games. Here, rules of their universe were fleshed out in detail. The 3 releases of the movies were thus interspersed with both media ensuring a more engaging experience for the fans.

Let’s look at a recent example, In “Dynasty of the Magi” an iPad game, the game is also a book. You battle evil along with other gamers. But you are also provided, an animated book which allows players to read an entire novel called “Rites of Passage” written by the game developer Derrick Garvin himself. Eleven more novels based on and informed by the real‐time play of the gamers is to follow.

Kids of this generation are demanding online versions of their real toys, giving room for the first Transmedia Toys. “Monster High” and “Monshi Monsters” identified by JWTintellegence are examples of the next step where traditional ‘play’ gives way to a multi channel experience for kids.

Not everything is ‘Transmedia’

I know, I know you’re probably thinking ‘Ra. One’ is a good Indian example of transmedia storytelling with its video games and online campaigns. It definitely was a good effort. However, one must note that merely being present across all media does not guarantee a Transmedia experience. It’s a difficult line to tread else campaigners fall prey to a multi‐media spamming strategy!

Two points of caution I managed to identify were:

The Indian Context:

I’m really curious about the future of Transmedia, in its Indian context. Especially, given the increasing democracy of mediums as discussed by fellow ICE Ninja Mrinal in ‘The Next Big Wave’. For a culture steeped in mythology and stories it will be interesting to see how we take to this kind of storytelling experience.

I haven’t seen many successful campaigns with this style of storytelling and that’s tough to believe given how much we love to tell stories!

Given plenty of the transmedia experiences stem out of our Films. I have some theories on why they haven’t been successful and I’d like to pose them as questions to you.

- Is there a Question of Closure?

We like Closure, Good triumphs over Evil. Boy gets the Girl. End of Story. Now, does the Indian audience want to explore the universe of these content characters further?

- Does the Actor overshadow the Character?

In our minds, the ‘Image’ of actors are stronger than the characters they portray. Rajni Kanth as Chitti or Shah Rukh as Shekhar Subramanium, we’re wedded to the actors more than their on‐screen personas, making it difficult to explore a universe independent of the actors.

- Is there actually a Need for Engagement?

In a country like ours where a walk to the grocery store offers its own form of entertainment replete with characters, plots and stories from the neighborhood. Do we really have the bandwidth for more drama?

- Are Promoters Scared to give the public a Voice?

As Voiced by Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment "There's a fear that the technology will give the consumer too much access and that they'll express themselves about the product in a negative way”. I seriously doubt this myself though.

- A lack of a paradigm, perhaps?

Maybe there hasn’t been a strong and compelling story that has been explored outside of its celluloid release. There’s also the obvious possibility that as Indian movie goers we just don’t need it ;)

In our ‘Future of Entertainment’ interview with Shiv Visvanathan . He made mention of how India will embrace ‘many futures’ and ‘not just one future’ when it comes to the future of entertainment.

Now, how these futures with all their stores will converge is something that will be of immense interest given the nature of Transmedia Storytelling. Feel free to comment and argue the nature of the theories put forth. Rest in Next!

Next stop, Why so Social? A view into the growing trend of ‘Social TV’

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