The Master of Narrative

By Pickle  April 6, 2024
The Master of Narrative, Pickle Media

Delve into the multifaceted world of Yash A Patnaik, founder of Inspire Films Limited. Explore his pioneering journey in storytelling, innovative content creation, and his vision to redefine Indian entertainment across television and digital platform

Yash A Patnaik, a stalwart in the Indian entertainment industry, has left an indelible mark over three decades. As the founder and Managing Director of Inspire Films Limited, his visionary leadership has not only transformed storytelling but also reshaped television and OTT platforms in India. With a repertoire boasting over 50 original fiction series and numerous accolades, Patnaik stands as a beacon of innovation and excellence. Yash is a Jury Member (Final Round) of International Emmys Awards (Emmys) and a TEDx speaker.

Inspire Films Limited, under his leadership has emerged as a powerhouse in Indian entertainment. It is not only a leading content production house but also listed with the National Stock Exchange (NSE), Mumbai. With over 6000 hours of popular and award-winning fiction content, the company has forged partnerships with top broadcasters and OTT platforms in India. Inspire’s rich portfolio comprises over 35 successful television shows, web series, mini-series, and non-scripted content. From heartwarming family dramas to pulse-pounding thrillers, each creation bears the hallmark of meticulous craftsmanship and immersive storytelling.

Fueling its success is a relentless commitment to excellence and a passion for pushing boundaries. Inspire Films consistently delivers successful projects for leading broadcasters and OTT platforms, earning accolades and acclaim. Its dedication to diversity and inclusivity is evident in projects spanning genres, languages, and formats, celebrating the rich tapestry of Indian culture.

At the heart of Inspire Films lies a relentless pursuit of excellence and innovation by Yash Patnaik and co-founder of Inspire, Mamta Patnaik who drives the creatives of the company. Each project of Inspire is meticulously crafted, blending compelling storytelling with cutting-edge production values. With a keen understanding of audience preferences and market trends, Inspire Films continues to set new benchmarks for excellence in Indian entertainment.

Simultaneously, Inspire Films extends its reach beyond traditional platforms. Immersed in digital series production for social media platforms, the company collaborates with brands to craft innovative stories. With a special focus on sports and reality sports stories, Inspire Films brings the heroic tales of Indian icons to life through non-fiction narratives.

Additionally, Inspire Films has been playing a significant role as a distribution and syndication company, showcasing its own productions and curating third-party content from other broadcasters and OTT platforms. This strategic approach expands its reach, offering audiences a diverse array of high-quality content across multiple platforms.

In this candid interview with Pickle, Inspire’s guiding force Patnaik highlights how his company is more than just a production house, driving innovation and excellence in Indian entertainment. With a rich legacy of storytelling and a relentless pursuit of creative excellence, let’s deep dive into how Inspire Films is shaping the future of the industry

The Master of Narrative, Pickle Media

Excerpts from the interview:

Your journey in the entertainment industry spans several decades, witnessing the dynamic evolution of content creation in India. Can you walk us through your experiences and the notable changes you’ve observed over the years?

When I reflect on the start of my journey in the entertainment industry back in the mid-90s, it was truly a time of transformation. This was when the industry was undergoing a significant evolution, with the emergence of pioneering entities like Zee, the first private satellite channel, followed by Sony, Star, and later, Colors in 2008. Witnessing this evolution firsthand has been a remarkable experience.

At that time, the landscape was vastly different from what it is today. We relied solely on government-run channels like DD, and access to international content was virtually nonexistent. However, a pivotal moment came in 1994 with the opening up of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), marking a significant shift in the industry’s trajectory.

As our industry continued to grow, we realized that it was still in its nascent stages, lacking organization and structure. It became evident that creating compelling content required a multifaceted approach. Firstly, it begins with the seed of an idea—a story, characters, and the world they inhabit. Secondly, having robust infrastructure is essential to bring these ideas to fruition. And finally, adequate financing is crucial to sustain and support these creative endeavors.

Reflecting on this journey, it’s clear that the foundation of our industry rests on these three pillars: creativity, infrastructure, and finance. Each plays a vital role in shaping the content landscape and driving innovation. As we continue to evolve, it’s essential to nurture and strengthen these pillars to ensure the continued growth and success of the industry.

As a seasoned producer, you’ve navigated through various facets of content creation. What are the fundamental aspects you consider when conceptualizing a project?

In our industry, creativity is our currency. We are all storytellers at heart, crafting narratives that captivate and resonate with audiences. Whether it’s a heartfelt drama, a thrilling mystery, or a heartwarming comedy, we cook up stories and serve them to the world.

When it comes to infrastructure, the beauty is that it’s adaptable and versatile. As a business-to-business (B2B) entity, we can operate from virtually anywhere, leveraging our ideas and concepts to pitch to broadcasters, OTT platforms, and studios. Once a project is commissioned, we spring into action, delivering our vision to fruition.

However, the biggest hurdle a producer generally faces is finance. Securing funding for content creation is a daunting challenge, primarily because traditional banks are hesitant to provide loans for what they perceive as the “film industry.” But in reality, it’s much more than that—it’s a vast media landscape comprising television, digital platforms, and cinema, each with its distinct dynamics and revenue streams.

When I interact with industry stakeholders, I emphasize the business side of our craft, highlighting the unique dynamics of films, television, and OTT platforms. Unlike the unpredictable nature of the film industry, where success can hinge on star power and box office returns, television and OTT operate under a different paradigm. Here, we work in partnership with platforms, often pre-selling our content, which mitigates financial risk. While the profit margins may not be as extravagant, there’s a sense of stability—a fixed profit margin ensures a steady stream of income, typically operating around 10% or slightly more.

In essence, while finance remains a formidable challenge, our industry thrives on innovation and collaboration. By understanding and navigating the intricacies of the media landscape, we continue to push boundaries and deliver compelling content to audiences worldwide.

Inspire Films recently made headlines with its IPO. What motivated this strategic move, and how do you envision leveraging this capital for future endeavors?

Our journey at Inspire Films has always been about striving for recognition and growth, not just in terms of creative achievements but also in the eyes of shareholders and financial institutions. After meticulous planning and hard work spanning nearly a year, we successfully navigated the process of listing our company.

We began by securing anchor investors who believed in our vision and potential. With their support, we embarked on the journey of opening our Initial Public Offering (IPO) to the public. From September 25-27 2023, our IPO was open for subscription, and the response exceeded our wildest expectations.

To our delight, we found ourselves oversubscribed an incredible 129 times, signaling a tremendous vote of confidence from investors – a testament to the trust and faith placed in our company.

As we move forward, this is just the beginning of our growth trajectory. With more rounds of funding on the horizon and ambitious aspirations for expanding our content offerings, we are poised to scale new heights. Our commitment to delivering innovative and compelling content remains unwavering, and we are excited about the journey ahead.

The Master of Narrative, Pickle Media

What strategies has Inspire Films employed to differentiate itself from others in the industry and maintain a commitment to originality and creativity in content production?

At Inspire Films, we pride ourselves on our commitment to originality and creativity. Each piece of content we produce is crafted with a unique vision and a desire to convey meaningful messages to our audience.

With over 35 shows under the Inspire banner and a total of 45 original IPs produced as a group, our portfolio spans various genres and formats, from daily soaps to youth-related content and miniseries. Our content has resonated with audiences not just in India, but also in countries like Indonesia, Turkey, and across Southeast Asia, garnering a dedicated fan following worldwide.

Our recent foray into web series has been met with tremendous success, with titles like “Dear Ishq” and “Tu Zakham Hai” achieving record-breaking viewership numbers on platforms like Disney+ Hotstar and MX Player. We have also ventured into international collaborations, adapting popular novels into captivating series that have captivated audiences both at home and abroad.

While our focus remains on television, we recognize the growing demand for Indian content on a global scale. As international formats find their way into the Indian market, we believe it’s time for Indian content to make its mark on the global stage. However, we acknowledge the challenges in achieving this, particularly in terms of format adaptation and audience engagement.

Unlike the success stories of Turkish, Korean, and Spanish content, Indian formats have struggled to gain traction beyond domestic borders. While Indian content is beloved by existing audiences, we have yet to create new markets or expand our reach significantly. To overcome this, we must prioritize innovation and originality, stepping out of our comfort zones to produce content that resonates with diverse audiences worldwide.

Innovation is key to unlocking the potential of Indian television content on the global stage. By embracing risk-taking and pushing the boundaries of storytelling, we can create content that not only entertains but also captivates audiences around the world. As we continue to evolve and expand our offerings, we remain committed to reshaping the landscape of Indian entertainment and making our mark on the global stage.

What factors do you believe have contributed to the lack of diversity in regional representation on Indian television compared to web series? Additionally, how do you envision the television industry evolving?

If we take a closer look at Indian television, we’ll notice a recurring trend – most shows predominantly feature characters hailing from regions like Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, essentially the Hindi belt. Occasionally, we might see Gujarati and Marathi characters, but it’s quite rare to encounter Bengali or characters from Southern states like Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, or Telangana in national television.

Why is this the case?

Simply put, it’s because we haven’t dared to challenge the established norms, narrative structures, and historical patterns of storytelling. While mainstream web series have embraced diversity by featuring South Indian characters and telling stories from diverse backgrounds, television has lagged behind in this aspect.

When we watch web series, the geographical origin of the characters doesn’t deter us from engaging with the story. However, television has been hesitant to break away from this mold. But, I firmly believe that once television dares to break free from these constraints, it will pose a formidable challenge to OTT platforms.

I have a strong conviction that if television begins to prioritize quality content and breaks free from the constraints it has imposed upon itself, it can unlock the potential to tell pan-India stories.

Consider the immense success of films like “Pushpa” and “KGF” – they’ve garnered widespread acclaim, particularly in the South Indian market. This success is indicative of a shift in audience preferences. People are craving fresh narratives, ones that go beyond the monotonous ‘dal-chawal’ fare and embrace the rich diversity of our cultural landscape. Just as there’s a time for ‘dal-chawal’, there’s also a time for ‘Kashmiri pulav’.

The decline of Hindi cinema at a certain point in time can be attributed to audiences seeking out the freshness and authenticity offered by South Indian cinema. It’s high time we acknowledged this shift in preferences and diversified our storytelling to cater to the evolving tastes of our audience.

The Master of Narrative, Pickle Media

In the context of television’s evolution and the challenges it faces in adapting to changing viewer preferences, how do you see the role of innovation in content creation?

Television has the potential to transcend its current boundaries, not only within India but also globally, once it breaks free from its safety constraints. Take Sun TV, for example. They have successfully introduced characters from diverse regions, thereby capturing a wider audience base. Similarly, if Hindi shows incorporate characters from various parts of India, they can expand their viewership nationwide.

When we look at successful content from countries like Turkey, Spain, Korea, and Japan, we see that they create characters with universal appeal, tapping into human emotions that resonate across cultures. It’s time for Indian television to step out of its comfort zone and embrace this approach.

Broadcasting networks are indeed savvy, but they operate within a complex ecosystem driven by business interests and advertiser demands. While they do take risks at times, the outcomes are often dictated by audience numbers and financial viability.

Television and OTT platforms cater to different viewing experiences—the former being a community, family-oriented screen and the latter offering a more personalized, private viewing experience. However, there’s room for crossover, as evidenced by the emergence of long-form storytelling on OTT platforms.

The future of television lies in its ability to adapt and take calculated risks. While digital content is witnessing rapid growth, television still commands a significant audience share. To stay relevant, television must be willing to innovate and experiment, even if it means short-term setbacks for long-term gains.

Change won’t come without challenges. Losing a coveted time slot can be daunting for broadcasters, as regaining viewers’ loyalty is no easy feat. However, embracing disruption now is crucial for securing a stronger future in the ever-evolving landscape of entertainment.

How do you perceive the balance between working in traditional broadcasting and navigating the world of OTT platforms?

The ability to navigate both traditional broadcasting and OTT platforms simultaneously is certainly feasible for individuals with diverse skill sets. However, what truly matters is recognizing the fundamental differences in mindset required for each domain. While the technical aspects may overlap to some extent, the approach to content creation and audience engagement must diverge significantly.

In essence, it’s not about the individuals themselves, but rather about understanding and adapting to the unique demands and dynamics of each platform. Whether one is involved in traditional broadcasting or the digital realm of OTT, the mindset must align with the specific objectives and audience preferences associated with each medium.

Throughout your journey in the industry, you’ve had the opportunity to observe and interact with a wide array of industry stalwarts. What insights have you gained from these seasoned veterans?

Ronnie Screwvala stands as an emblematic figure in content creation, embarking on his journey from television through UTV and transcending boundaries to set new industry standards. Alongside luminaries like Uday Shankar, Subhash Chandra and others, he has left an indelible mark on the craft. Personally, I hold Ronnie in high esteem, especially considering the close professional relationship my wife Mamta shared with him and his spouse Zarina during her UTV years in early 2000s.

Reflecting on the wisdom gleaned from these industry titans, the overarching lesson resonates: as an independent producer, transitioning into a corporate entity, it’s imperative to provide a broader platform for your collaborators. This entails fostering diverse teams to spearhead various projects and amplifying different voices within the creative process. Our aspiration is to follow in their footsteps, transitioning from modest beginnings to a robust corporate platform, ultimately amplifying our impact in the industry.

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