One of Netflix’s new releases that’s getting a lot of attention is Malayalam superhero flick Minnal Murali , which drops on December 24. In an interesting move, Priyanka Chopra Jonas introduced the film through a virtual interaction hosted by the streaming platform with lead actor Tovino Thomas and director Basil Joseph. (And as the chairperson of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, she also announced the comedy’s world premier at the festival on December 16.)
‘Something for everyone’ with a focus on ‘strong storytelling’ sums up Netflix India’s current content strategy. It recently slashed subscription rates, a move that would make it accessible to a larger demographic.
“Our approach has been to diversify and have many shades reflected on the canvas. It is a painting that will evolve over time depending on how our audience responds to the choices we’ve made,” Tanya Bami, Series Head Netflix India told The Hindu Weekend recently during the trailer launch of their next India Original, Aranyak .
The streaming platform is betting big on its India Originals that span genres and then some. “ Aranyak is a thriller. We have Finding Anamika [ starring Madhuri Dixit], a drama and a hybrid-like Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein , a romance thriller and Mai [produced by Anushka Sharma’s CleanSlate Films, starring Sakshi Tanwar] which is dark and intimate. We have a very strong comedic slate with Decoupled with R Madhavan and Surveen Chawla, and the Kapil Sharma special,” she adds.
Tanya joined Netflix in 2019 before which she was VP Content at Viacom’s OTT platform Voot. She has worked at Zee and Star India and production houses such as Big Synergy and Optimystix. As a series head, she greenlights shows.
The diversity basket
Diversity extends not only to the kind of stories Netflix wants to showcase, but also behind-the-scenes, with its collaborators. “We have collaborations with experienced players such as Dharma and Excel, as well as newer players like Manu Joseph whose first series is Decoupled . The same applies for the talents. Besides experienced names like Raveena and Madhuri, there are new faces like Rohit Saraf and Prajakta Koli in Mismatched .”
Since its entry into India, the streaming platform has produced 70 local originals and has 90 in the pipeline. The volume indicates the team’s mantra that ‘everyone’s Netflix is different.’ “While films continue to be a staple in India, we have many stories to tell between the other formats like scripted series, reality, comedy and documentary.”
Reality and documentary genres have grown multi-fold in recent years. While international docu-series like Wild Wild Country or Tiger King found an audience in India, local stories are transforming the Indian content ecosystem. Netflix has brought range to this genre, be it the world of arranged marriages in Indian Matchmaking , the anthology Bad Boy Billionaires: India on Indian tycoons and their downfall, or more recently the true-crime docu-series, House of Secrets – The Burari Deaths .
According to ‘What India Watched 2020’, a blog post by Netflix, documentary viewing grew more than 100% in 2020 over 2019, with Bad Boy Billionaires , The Social Dilemma and Money Heist: The Phenomenon being the most popular titles. “It’s encouraging to see what’s happening in the docu space. Indian audiences are open to watching documentaries,” reveals Bami.
On full ‘stream’
Even as the world shut down during the pandemic, the business of content creation and distribution was booming. Thrillers and crime dramas came a close second to comedy among Indian viewers last year. The ‘hairline’ difference between the two was an affirmation of Netflix’s diverse programming strategy. Jamtara: Sabka Number Aayega , the small-town story of greed and ambition, became the Indian title to feature the longest on the Top 10 list in India.
The pandemic also saw an uptick in the popularity of K-dramas, as Indian viewers, like the rest of the world, binged on Squid Game this summer. Though no Indian show has taken over the world like the Korean drama, Bami maintains that Netflix’s Indian content has got ‘a lot of love’ within and outside our borders. “We have had Emmy nominations for Sacred Games and a win for Delhi Crime . We won 100 awards locally for our titles.”
While the popularity of Squid Game or Money Heist indicates that audiences here aren’t afraid of that ‘one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles’ Parasite director Bong Joon Ho famously referred to, Netflix India is looking to make deeper inroads into the country by offering more local content, especially in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. “This year we’ve had many exciting titles like Navarasa and Paava Kadhaigal , [now] we have Minnal Murali . We are cognisant that the way forward is to get into regional languages.”