India on Cusp of Global Streaming Hit, Top Players Say



India is on the verge of producing a global breakthrough streaming hit, leading industry players said over the past week across two panel discussions.

The mood in the country has been celebratory, even self-congratulatory, albeit with some justification, after the Oscar wins for S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” and Karthiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga‘s “The Elephant Whisperers.” On the streaming front, all the major players have had several hits. SonyLIV scored an International Emmy nomination for “Rocket Boys,” for lead actor Jim Sarbh. Netflix won the International Emmy for comedy for “Vir Das: Landing” and “The Railway Men” cracked the streamer’s global non-English TV top 3 in addition to topping the South Asian chart. Locally, Netflix dominated the Filmfare streaming awards with 26 wins including prizes for “Trial by Fire,” “Kohrra” and “Scoop.”

Prime Video’s “The Panchayat Season 2” won best series at the International Film Festival of India’s inaugural streaming awards and its hits this year include “Farzi,” “Jubilee,” “Dahaad” (India’s debut at the Berlinale Series) “Bambai Meri Jaan” and “P.I. Meena.” Disney+ Hotstar tasted success with “The Night Manager” and “Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo,” while Season 2 of JioCinema’s “Asur” became one of the most-watched Indian shows of the year.

It was little wonder then that Film Bazaar in Goa,South Asia’s largest content market, chose to conclude with a panel featuring representatives of Prime Video, Netflix, Banijay Asia and Jio Studios. Moderator Rajeev Masand, COO of Dharma Cornerstone Agency, began with the opening salvo of why India hasn’t had a “Squid Game” yet.

Banijay Asia and Endemol Shine India founder and group CEO Deepak Dhar said that an Indian global hit is “around the corner.” “We are now really poised to hit the next level,” Dhar added. “With what’s happening across the streaming industry globally, and in India, I think we’re excited that we’re now at this stage.”

“We’re very close to having that definitive, defining breakout, because the signs are all there,” added Sushant Sreeram, country director, Prime Video India. “We are seeing Indian stories travel so brilliantly outside. Not just streaming original shows, but even movies like ‘RRR.’ I think we’re just a step away from having that massive moment. But I do want to acknowledge in the meantime that we are being true to authentic local storytelling.”

“Absolute plus one to local authentic stories,” agreed Ambika Khurana, director of public policy at Netflix India. “And I think we are not waiting for tomorrow, we’re right there. What ‘RRR’ did was magical and ‘The Elephant Whisperers’.”

Over in Mumbai a few days later “The Elephant Whisperers” producer Monga was on another high-powered panel to celebrate the launch of streamer ZEE5 Global’s U.S. aggregation platform. “A ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ is waiting to happen,” Monga said. “The world is looking at us, content wise, we’re doing incredible work. I think there’s a bridge that needs to be made. And that is something that many of us producers are putting forward. And I hope with outreach and ambition, that becomes easier.”

Fellow panelist Vishal Bhardwaj, director of hit Netflix original film “Khufiya,” added, “A ‘Parasite’ is waiting to happen from here. I want to see a film like ‘Parasite’ bridging everything and making it big.” Manoj Bajpayee, a leading actor who has had two streaming hit films this year, ZEE5’s “Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai” and Disney+ Hotstar’s “Gulmohar,” said that the feedback he is getting from his friends in North America is that they are tiring of VFX vehicles and they thrill to the emotions in “RRR.”

“‘RRR’ was talking about human interaction, interpersonal relationships. In all that drama, stunts and everything larger than life, the core of it was emotional,” Bajpayee said.

Speaking with Variety, Archana Anand, chief business officer, ZEE5 Global, said that one of the service’s ambitions is to change stereotypical representations of South Asians and in the expectation that would lead to breakthrough content. “Can we tell the stories that will truly be representative of real life, which is what reel life is supposed to do? Can we tell the stories of the arrived South Asian, no longer the caricature? That is something we are very aspirational about,” Anand said.


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