“9NINE” is a transmedia, immersive film project which, according to its collaborators, is the first of its kind. Produced by Nilendra Deshapriya of “Thanha Rathi Ranga” fame, the project will be a fresh attempt at creating art for the masses in an unfamiliar way.
While it may be a novel attempt, the concept of transmedia storytelling has been in practice for some time around the globe with the emergence of new media courtesy of the internet.
Not to be confused with the advertising terminology of cross-channel marketing, transmedia storytelling is the technique of developing a single narrative that spans many user touchpoints. The goal is to create an engaging experience for the audience and blur the lines between fantasy and reality, where eventually the content will fit together like pieces in a puzzle.
An example that is often shared, by Deshapriya himself too, is the universe-building works of Star Wars or Marvel/DC superheroes. In the case of superheroes, the relative company will release comic books or build on comic books already released, prior to the release of the final films in an attempt to provide the audience the opportunity to become familiar with a character’s backstory.
This technique allows the audience to delve deeper into a story, by focusing on not just singular characters but by focusing on a larger complex world with multiple characters and intertwining plotlines.
9NINE, since its inception, has begun to flesh out its world. The narrative, which is yet to present itself in a linear setting, currently has begun in terms of character introductions; opening its universe to the audience in the form of nine characters, nine women share snippets of the nature of their person, periodically in nine posts shared daily on both Instagram and Facebook.
Speaking to those attached to the project, they shared that the way the narrative would come together would be that after familiarising yourself with the characters – their nature, emotions, biases, and history – they will all eventually culminate in another platform, either through a limited TV series or a final film.
The characters introduced – the women – have been inspired by real-life persons and the project is still underway. However, given the pandemic situation, delays have made it so faces cannot be given to all, but their stories are still shared for anyone to follow.
Durga – inspired by Rudrani Devi Das, a speech and hearing-impaired woman living the life of a hermit.
Madhu – a mother of a six-month-old infant living with a man who is 20 years her senior. He takes her hard-earned money to satisfy his own selfish needs.
Sushmitha – inspired by an airhostess who was raped in late 2016. The narrative follows a woman who lost her father, is feeling neglected by her mother, and is in search of love.
Rithu – a transgender woman depicting her internal conflict and the many struggles she faces in a conservative society.
Tanya – a nightclub dancer who works in a spa. She owns a pet snake and is a melancholic character drowning her sorrows through excessive substance abuse.
Mahesha – an actress suffering from a traumatic childhood, with her past being intertwined with the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) riots in the island; her outward persona is in conflict with her inner demons.
Kaveetha – a former LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) cadre and black tigress, in her journey of making it to Colombo; the struggles she faces and her personal journey in search of love. Deshapriya shared that Kaveetha’s character was inspired by an article he came across about a black tigress who was captured and Niromi de Soyza’s novel Tamil Tigress.
Patalee – inspired by a real-life reality show star. Patalee is a village girl whose father’s dying wish was for her to become a successful singer; it is the story of her pursuit of fame and her trials as she participates in a reality singing competition.
Dharani – a die-hard feminist and a rebel who feels as though society is limiting her freedom. She is a film student and likely the focal point character that will bring the narrative together.
This time has proven ideal: Yureni Noshika
We spoke to Yureni Noshika, who will be playing the character of “Tanya”. She shared how this project came together and the importance of creating new art that transcends traditional mediums.
She said that this time has proven to be ideal for being creative, and stressed also that considering the availability of new media to the world of entertainment, it is time to take our art to the next level; the Sri Lankan market is raw and untapped, and therefore, there is much potential there.
She said: “Globally, the industry is focused on online content, miniseries, TV serials, etc. and language is not a barrier anymore; we see that with Parasite’s success.” She added that as such, we must spend our time and effort in exploring these new technologies, which is one of her main reasons to take part in this project, she shared.
She said while 9NINE is still in its inception stages, its audience can start becoming familiar with its characters now. She added that they are currently marketing the concept and a lot of hype is being built around it; this will be the new wave of entertainment, to focus on taking our creators to the world, she shared.
She also added that the project will be unique in that it will also be available via AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) technologies and to facilitate this, they have tech company Arimac onboard.
Yureni finally shared that for her personally, this would be one of the most, if not the most, challenging roles she has taken on and she is grateful to Deshapri for his vision and great professionalism in putting together a novel project, something the Lankan audiences can soon be very proud of.
Transmedia storytelling captures an audience far longer than any one single piece of art. It allows for audience engagement prior to the beginning of its intended narrative and even after its conclusion, the story continues in the form of fan fiction and world-building.
Storytelling that exists in the form of transmedia narratives has a longer shelf life and creates more enjoyable experiences for the new consumer, and while 9NINE may be the first to attempt it, it’s possible that it would spark a new wave of local creatives to overcome their perceived limitations and start creating.