Netflix India: ‘There is no bidding war between the different OTT platforms here’

At the forefront: Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content at Netflix India

At the forefront: Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content at Netflix India  

After the platform announced a slew of direct-to-digital arrivals, the Vice President of Content, Monika Shergill, talks to The Hindu

With Netflix announcing a slew of direct-to-digital arrivals on its platform today, expectations are sky-high as the competition with other OTT services in India — with respect to national and regional content — grows steadily.

Recent big-name announcements by Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar had wooed consumers, and many expected it to be only a matter of time before Netflix India pulled out all the stops.

The latest line-up has put the streaming giant right back in the thick of things, and Monika Shergill, the Vice President of Content at Netflix India is at the forefront of it all.

A seasoned media professional with over two decades of experience as a journalist, producer and network executive, Monika is keen to emphasise on the platform’s focus on creating more and more original content in the country, as the OTT space becomes more valuable than ever to film industries, with theates still shut down across the country.

Excerpts from an interview:

Granted, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown is a factor, but how are big Bollywood stars convinced to release their films on OTT platforms?

If you look at our upcoming Originals, we have a whole slew of our own commissioned films with the likes of a Kajol or Anil Kapoor coming on board, that Netflix has been heavily investing in. In the west, we have had Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction and more recently, Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard. This proves that stars coming on board for a digital release isn’t a challenge really. For us, as a full-scale entertainment service, our perspective has always been about casting the right talent.

The recent line-up of content announced has no south Indian content; is that a vertical the platform plans to focus on eventually?

Our regional cinema titles, especially in south India has gotten great response on the service. Vijay’s Sarkar, Rajinikanth’s Petta and Allu Arjun’s Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo are some of the titles that have done exceedingly well in recent times. We are definitely very invested in finding stories from down south — it’s an evolving slate we have — and there is a lot of interest towards adding more and more to it.

Vijay in ‘Sarkar’

Vijay in ‘Sarkar’  

When a big-budget film is up for acquisition, does a bidding war happen between platforms?

I can safely say that all the different services have a tremendous appetite for content and the consumers are eager for more.

There’s no bidding war as such; the first choice always lies with the creator as to where they wish to go and which platform their story will best fit. I can’t speak for the other sites, but the team at Netflix is very conscious that we want to work with the best, and so have no qualms reaching out to filmmakers and asking them to collaborate with us too.

How do you handle situations such as the recent ‘#BoycottNetflix’ controversy in the wake of Telugu film Krishna and his Leela’s release?

There are many consumers out there who liked all the kinds of content we put out. We certainly don’t intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments, and we all thought KAHL was a wonderful film. It’s important for viewers to have choice and control; that’s why we have trailers, synopsis and maturity ratings so that people can choose the right thing to watch — for themselves — and their families.

We are constantly working with the government as well as industry peers to ensure that the consumers’ freedom is not impacted, and that artistic freedom and excellence is at the forefront of what we do.

The #BoycottNetflix controversy erupted over some scenes in ‘Krishna and his Leela’

The #BoycottNetflix controversy erupted over some scenes in ‘Krishna and his Leela’  

Does your background as a journalist come into play when you explore stories that can be made into viable scripts?

As storytellers, we are always looking for intriguing tales around us, the news that is impacting people, and what are the most unique characters and lives that could be depicted on-screen. I read and keep in touch with people as much as possible; it’s important for us to reflect what’s going on in the world in the work that we do.

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Netflix India has been supporting many female filmmakers in recent times, could you elaborate on that?

Our consistent focus area is to bring to light original and passionate voices — and this is also determined by a lot of women executives here at Netflix, who have sought to work with first-time women filmmakers such as Ruchi Narain (Guilty) and Anvita Dutt (Bulbbul). It makes for a really interesting and joyful experience.

Anvita Dutt’s ‘Bulbbul’

Anvita Dutt’s ‘Bulbbul’  

What has been Netflix’s biggest learnings or takeaway during this lockdown?

We feel extremely fortunate, almost humbled that we have been a meaningful service to people during these tough times. Stories are the way to connect to one another, and provide an escape, comfort or distraction. Having said that, we are aware that this massive surge in OTT popularity could also be temporary; we are also braced for what happens when we come out on the other side.

Our major learning is that people are always hungry to discover new things. We have always had accessibility issues, or challenges such as people not having the time to explore the platform and not being keen to try content in different languages; we are seeing that change now. We have now understood that diversity and variety is really important, as is the ‘mood’ of what the viewer wants: be it watching something individually or the concept of co-viewing, which has become very popular.

Theatrical releases are now coming to Netflix; could a Netflix India production — akin to how The Irishman did — release in theatres someday soon?

There is no such plan for Netflix films to release theatrically as of now. The platform shall have original content along with all the acquired licensed films, that have a theatrical release first and then come to digital.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 11:30:17 AM |

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