It was December last year when, at a Delhi leadership summit, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings revealed his company was in the process of investing around $400 million (Dhs1.47 billion) into Indian content – both licenced and original – over 2019/20. At the time such a figure could have appeared a gamble, though 50 production announcements including films, series and stand-up specials; and so far 20 releases later, the South Asian streaming revolution looks to be steaming ahead.
According to the platform, 2019 animation Mighty Little Bheem has clocked 27 million views around the globe. Thriller Sacred Games and the multi-starrer Lust Stories were nominated for International Emmy awards last year. The recently released Anushka Sharma-produced Bulbbul and soon-to-drop Gunjan Saxena biopic with Janhvi Kapoor are tipped to become Netflix record-breakers.
“The breadth of stories in India with their local settings and complex characters is incredible and we can’t wait for more people here and around the world to discover them,” Netflix India commented when we reached out to discuss their upward trend in Bollywood programming. “We want to be the home of the finest Indian stories and storytellers, take bets on lesser told stories and give the creators the freedom to tell these stories the way they want.”
A major path Netflix seems to be forging in India, compared with Mumbai’s more traditional production houses, is the promotion of female filmmakers and women-orientated stories. For decades a Khan credit, whether Shah Rukh, Salman or Aamir, has often been the sole recipe for box office success. Such notions may still prove fruitful with cinema releases, however, given Netflix’s model does not rely on established ‘names’ attracting an audience to the theatre, the OTT service possesses a unique advantage in creating new trends.
“60 per cent of our series and films in India have women in central characters- be it Radhika Apte as intelligence officer Anjali Mathur in Sacred Games or Nida Rahim as the fierce military officer in Ghoul,” Netflix India told us. “Audiences want to see diverse stories about women, on issues that relate to women, or with women in central characters.
“We’re thrilled to see a more central role for women behind the camera too. As we empower storytellers to do the best work of their lives with us, we are fortunate to work with new voices – writers, directors, producers, many of them women, who have chosen us to share their stories with the world.”
Findings in publications such as The Washington Post indicate Netflix has seen a pandemic surge in subscriptions to the tune of 16 million households in April alone. A bgr.com report from May states Netflix subscribers have been streaming about 203,840,000 hours per day during quarantine and users in just the United States streamed around 6,115,200,000 hours of content in April. Continuing #StayHome measures could see a 61 per cent increase in total online viewing. Would these figures lead to a need for more content, Indian-origin or otherwise?
“In our last global earnings call, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said, ‘The one thing that’s maybe not widely understood is we work really far out relative to the industry because we launch our shows all episodes at once,'” said Netflix India. “He continued, ‘our 2020 slate of series and films are largely shot and are in post production and we’re actually pretty deep into our 2021 slate. We aren’t anticipating moving things around.'”