A question of faith
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A question of faith

Thai series The Believers hopes to spark conversation about societal issues

A question of faith
Patchai Pakdeesusuk, left, and Paophet Charoensook inThe Believers.

Dramas about the intersection of religion and money aren't new, but Netflix's latest Thai series The Believers has a different take on the genre as it explores themes of faith, morality, and the pursuit of wealth. Penned by Aummaraporn Phandintong and Jiraporn Saelee and helmed by director Wattanapong Wongwan, the series unfolds over nine episodes that bring viewers into a world where the boundaries between belief systems and business ventures blur against the backdrop of Thailand's rich cultural heritage.

The storyline revolves around three protagonists: Game (Pachara "Peach" Chirathivat), Dear (Achiraya "Ally" Nitibhon) and Win (Teeradon "James" Supapunpinyo). Their lives take a dramatic turn following the collapse of their NFT business, leaving them in a web of debt and desperation. In a bid to turn their fortunes around, they hatch a daring plan -- to revitalise a struggling Buddhist temple and turn it into a profitable enterprise by leveraging people's religious beliefs. However, the scheme leads them into a spiral of lies and manipulation, testing not only their ingenuity, but also their morality. There's also a few roadblocks along that threaten to turn the trio's morally dubious entrepreneurial undertaking into a possible criminal case.

In an exclusive interview, director Wattanapong sheds light on the series' genesis and challenges encountered during its creation. He describes The Believers as a narrative that delves into the intricacies of faith and belief in modern society, juxtaposed with the commercialisation of sacred spaces like temples. Wattanapong's personal experiences and reflections on religion played a pivotal role in shaping the series.

Director Wattanapong Wongwan. (Photos: Yupanakorn Boonprem/Netflix)

The series not only navigates the complexities of faith and commerce but also delves into the ethical dilemmas faced by the protagonists as they tread a fine line between morality and greed.

"The Believers is a story about faith and belief in our society told through characters that have modern perspectives and an interest in managing this long-standing system -- which is Buddhism. I grew up in a regular Buddhist family but I started having questions in my mind," Wattanapong said, highlighting his desire to delve into societal shifts and philosophical inquiries.

Crafting a narrative that seamlessly blends elements of crime, drama and social commentary posed significant challenges for Wattanapong and his team. "The Believers is my first time directing long-form content. I needed to understand the management system, the roles and responsibilities within temples," he explained. Extensive research, immersive visits to temples across Thailand and in-depth conversations with religious practitioners were pivotal in capturing the nuances of temple life and spiritual practices portrayed in the series.

"I feel like we went to a hundred temples! I visited temples all over Thailand, did interviews with people who worked in temples or those who had actually managed a temple to make my story feel real. I wouldn't be able to show these details convincingly without being there," he said.

"We travelled to temples as merit-makers and kept an eye out for how and where the process would start, and what activities were organised at each temple. We also had discussions with temple liaisons and monks about their daily routine and responsibilities. We then compared and contrasted how each temple presented itself and invited people to make merit. We took note of interesting points and turned it into a script."

The meticulous casting process meant that each actor embodied their character's complexity. Teeradon's portrayal of Win, Pachara's embodiment of Game's entrepreneurial spirit and Achiraya's nuanced portrayal of Dear collectively contribute to the narrative experience.

A scene from The Believers. 

"We chose James for the role of Win as we have seen his work in different roles, and felt that he would be a great choice for the role of a complex character who thinks through things on many different levels and doesn't express his feelings directly," Wattanapong said.

"We cast Peach especially because I wrote the character based on him -- and his performance really matched what I had in mind for the main character Game. And for Ally, I wanted to work with her after seeing her work as a singer as well as acting performances. Once we started talking and working together, things clicked and she was really in tune with what we wanted to do with the character."

When asked about his favourite scene while filming, Wattanapong said it would be difficult to pick because each has something meaningful to him.

"Well, if I really had to choose, my pick would be the scenes where the main and supporting cast are all present together -- such as the temple fair scene. You will see the main characters start their mission while the supporting cast takes part in the ceremony," he said. "I think this scene presents an experience that most people in Thailand are familiar with, and our cast pulled it off. I was particularly impressed because we did not have to tell them exactly what to do, and they understood what was needed for the scene right away."

As The Believers prepares to captivate audiences worldwide, Wattana­pong hopes the series will ignite meaningful conversations and introspection.

From left, Pachara Chirathivat, Achiraya Nitibhon and Teeradon Supapunpinyo in The Believers. 

"I believe that each viewer will pick up something different from this series. If this leads people to share and discuss different thoughts or even form new ideas, it would mean that the show has fulfilled its purpose," Wattanapong said.

The Believers presents a thought-provoking narrative that challenges perceptions and invites dialogue.

"I think what makes this series special is a solid story that Thai people are familiar with. I think some people may already have questions or doubts like myself. If the series can spark conversation, or re-interpretation among people who have lived lives connected to religion, I would feel that it has done what it was meant to do," Wattanapong pointed out.

"On top of that, I feel we are representatives of those who have been trying to raise this issue -- something that people are already aware of but have not managed to say out loud. I hope that this story can provide new perspectives or angles about Buddhism and this issue around it."

As viewers embark on the journey that is The Believers, they will not only be entertained but also be encouraged to engage critically with the themes presented, fostering a deeper understanding of the intricate interplay between belief systems, personal aspirations and ethical considerations in today's globalised world.

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