India – Revolution Over The Top

admin   May 19, 2020

Internet-led or OTT entertainment is clearly the new “adult” on the block. Having changed the way in which the world views films and TV, the internet has started changing the way India is entertained.

By Bobby Bedi

For over 70 years Indian entertainment has been living in its own world—a world of fantasy heroes and heroines who take entire populations into dreamlands and faraway lands. Their lives have never been the lives of real people, their clothes have never been the clothes of real people, their homes have never been real homes and their stories have always revolved around a single plot. For 70 years, we have largely been watching the story of the boy meeting the girl; getting the hots for her; surmounting the insurmountable obstacles that come in the form of villainous rivals or fathers; and finally living happily ever after. What held these stories together were a series of melodramatic events, jokes, songs, interesting locations and pure hero worship of their favorite stars. Occasionally, this mould was broken and whenever that happened, we coined phrases like off-beat, parallel or art cinema to explain the change. Even in the telling of history we managed to completely distort the facts and convince audiences of stories that we wished had happened, rather than talk of reality.

Not anymore. Internet-led or OTT entertainment is clearly the new “adult” on the block. Having changed the way in which the world views films and TV, the internet has started changing the way India is entertained.

Three major changes have occurred across the world of entertainment. Firstly, the duration of what we watch has changed from fixed slots of film and TV to fully flexible durations that can be just a few minutes long (user generated content) to several hours long for the binge watchers. There is no pandering to Advertising breaks, so the experience is seamless. Secondly, the screen size has changed. Cinema screens remain, but home viewing ranges from six inches to sixty inches and from headphones to surround sound. The mobile phone has become your personal cinema. The third major change is that stories are able to travel seamlessly across geographies and across languages and cultures.

The second and third have impacted India the most. The ability to view on the smartphone has increased access from hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions. Indians from all regions, cultures and economic backgrounds are glued to their personal screen. The mobile revolution in India has put international quality entertainment within the reach of the poorest. What started with Netflx as a fad for the rich has now become food for the masses as Indian platforms like Hotstar, Jio, MX Player, Zee5 and Eros Now have risen to the occasion.

But the real icing on the cake is the change in the content itself. Real stories are ruling the roost. The world of fantasy is fast giving way to the underworld of “Sacred Games” and the harsh reality of “Delhi Crime”. Stories and writers are in great demand and the audience is maturing fast.

Does this mean that the stars will become Stardust? Probably not. They will coexist with the new world.

BOBBY BEDI has produced award winning cinema including Bandit Queen, Fire and Maqbool and is now producing web series for all the major domestic and international platforms.


Featured Post

Reflections on Amit Khanna

admin   December 13, 2019

THE MEDIA GURU AMIT KHANNA: poet, lyricist, writer, filmmaker and historian

RONNIE SCREWVALA Entrepreneur & Co Founder & Chairman – upGrad

“Amit has ridden the lows and the highs of an industry, and that is what makes him the maverick he is. To say he has seen it all would be an understatement as his career and contribution to Media, News & Journalism as well as Entertainment has been deep and long. At all times Amit has been the voice of reason, always looking at the long-term picture and many times has placed the Industry growth higher than his own personal plans. An Encyclopedia is a reservoir of knowledge, history and a Leader is one who walks the talk and Amit exemplifies both”

SHYAM BENEGAL Noted Film Director and Screenwriter

“Amit Khanna is a living encyclopedia of Indian Cinema. For most part of his career he has been a practising Film Producer and Production Executive with leading film production companies in India. During his nonworking hours he runs International Film Festivals of high repute and freely offers help and support to film appreciation communities. All in all, he is an enormous asset to both the Cinema Industry as well as to cineastes of our country. Best of all, I can count him among my good and reliable friends”

KARAN JOHAR Producer and Director

“He is a treasure trove of experience of the media and entertainment business ….his thoughts have been exceptionally visionary ….grab this as soon as you can! the veteran AMIT KHANNA has a book coming out!”

BOBBY BEDI Producer

“Amit is a very knowledgeable and generous friend, always willing to share knowledge and advice. His book will become seminal reading. He is rare because his talent spans the creative, the intellectual and the commercial world”

SAM BALSARA Founder, Chairman and MD of Madison World

“I have known Amit Khanna for over 35 years as a leading figure in the entertainment industry traversing all its forms like Film or Music and all its aspects whether it is Direction, Production or Writing. Whilst, he has retired from active working life, he continues to promote the cause of the Industry and has become a vociferous commentator on what the future lies for the Entertainment Industry”

SHABANA AZMI Noted Indian Actress

“Amit Khanna has always been ahead of the time – a pioneer in the true sense of the word. He was the first person who told me that the computer (which was then as big as a small room) will become tiny enough to hold in the hand, and that the Gaming Industry will take over all forms of entertainments. His Television Company – Plus Channel – gave the Industry at least 80 percent of the talent that rules the roost today. As the head of Reliance Entertainment, he cracked a partnership with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and made Hollywood realise that India is a big player. A voracious reader with an enviable memory, he is bilingual in a way few are. All of this holds him in good stead when he puts pen to paper. His song written for Basu Chatterjee’s Swami, “Pal bhar mein yeh kya ho gaya…” continues to have one of the highest recall values of songs picturised on me. He is my go-to person when I want an Urdu poem translated into English or when I need information about the business side of Media and Entertainment industry. I am looking forward to reading his new book at the earliest”

ARJUN APPADURAI Goddard Professor in Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

“Amit Khanna is one of a kind. No one has had such a variety of involvements with the world of Indian media as he: lyricist, poet, producer, critic, industry advocate, media industry leader. What is most remarkable is that Amit is also a scholar and thinker who knows the history of Indian media better than most and is also the sharpest student of its future. He is a renaissance man, whom I am proud to celebrate and to have as a friend”

SUDHIR MISHRA Director

“He is one of the most visionary persons I have ever met. All that is happening in the media space today the private channels, niche audience demanding their own content, the rise of internet and the social media – Amit had predicted it in the 80s and the 90s. He is a brilliant man. An accomplished lyricist, he is also a screenplay writer, dialogue writer, director, and producer. Nobody was making a film with me after Dharavi when Shiv Sena, but Amit helped me and re-established my career. So, I owe it to him for what I am today. I cherish that there is somebody who is watching my back. In his book, I am looking forward to what he is going to say about the future. I think it will be very useful for the younger generation to read it. I think it should be a compulsory reading in all film schools. I think it should be there in every library, along with the digital edition. He is a rare man. I am privileged to have him as an elder brother almost”

NAJEEB JUNG Former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi

“Amit is a rare genius. Having known him from school, I am aware of his vast talents that he has repeatedly displayed over the 40 years in the Bombay film industry. His association with Dev Anand and Navketan Films is a stuff of legend. His film producing abilities, talent in writing high quality poetry and film songs, his grasp and understanding of the mechanics of the film industry exhibit his brilliance. I am a proud recipient of his affection and friendship”

SURESH JINDAL Producer and Filmmaker

“Amit is one of my earliest friends in the industry. He is a remarkable person. He is a man of many talents. He is a multifaceted person and very low profile. I have known Amit for a long time and he is a very sincere friend. He is always there when you need him. I just wish his book does phenomenally well. He has been a guiding force of the industry. When he started Plus Channel, he started it overnight. He sold everything he had. He is that kind of a person. He is a risk taker. He is a man of great vision”

LAURE KALTENBACH Chairman and co-founder of CreativeTech

“Amit Khanna is a man who keeps on surprising. When the adventure of the Forum d’Avignon (international think-tank and meetings on the links between culture, economy and innovation) was in its infancy, he agreed to become its part. We hardly knew about each other but his curiosity, interest for other cultures and sharing helped forge links that have lasted over 10 years. The values of constancy, fidelity and transmission of knowledge and friendships are beautiful lessons to share throughout the world. This energy will never end”

DILIP CHENOY Secretary General, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry

“Amit Khanna is a man of action for the Indian M&E industry. He visualized the convergence of media, telecom, IT and venture capitalists way back in late 90s. His yeoman service and leadership to the M&E sector has created thousands of jobs and made subsequent generations take up media as a career. No doubt, his new book “Words, Sounds, Images” will guide us to prepare for a bright M&E future”

LEENA JAISANI Assistant Secretary General, FICCI

“Mr Amit Khanna is undoubtedly not just a guru to me but to the industry… He was the only person who understood numbers of M & E and its importance. The first and many reports of the industry was brought out due to the deep insights and understanding that he shared so generously… as the first co-chair of the media and entertainment committee he was a guiding light for all the work we accomplished. To me personally, he is a true mentor and guide. He is a standalone university of media and entertainment”

SUPRAN SEN Secretary General, Film Federation of India

“I first met Amitji in IMPPA office in 1975-76. I was IMPPA’s Secretary and some dispute was on with regard to titles Despardesh applied by Navketan and Des Videsh booked by another producer. The title registration committee headed by late Shri P N Arora rejected Despardesh on the ground of similarity with Des Videsh. Amitji very softly explained to me that there was no similarity between the titles as Pardesh could be within the country but Videsh meant a foreign country. Ultimately Despardesh was registered in favour of Navketan. My actual journey commenced with him when I joined All India Film Producers Council, Film Federation of India and later Film Producers Guild of India. He was a very dynamic person and believed in prompt actions. He was a hard task master but erudite and hence I enjoyed his bossing. At his insistence, Film Federation of India joined FIAPF. He always forced me to ensure that the organisation took active part in film festivals and major film events. During his tenure as President of Guild, we were part of many delegations in India and abroad, including London, Cannes, Tokyo, Los Angeles et al.. I have been visiting Cannes for the last 27 years but as part of Guild delegation under him in Cannes was the most enjoyable. The dinner hosted by Guild still remains unparalleled. Once, I had to be hospitalised, Amit Khanna helped, and now I got my second life to live. I have been eagerly awaiting to read his book as I have to learn many more things from him”

ASHISH SK Chairman-Founder, Punnaryug Artvision Pvt Ltd & Founder-CEO, Screenyug Creations Pvt Ltd

“Amit Ji has been a great source of information and inspiration for many in the M&E industry. He’s a great lyricist and a man of vision. Always driven by his own style, he brought all of us together under the “E – Entertainment Alliance” umbrella. His ability to delve deep into a subject and enlighten the industry with possible future trends was simply amazing. He was one of the few Indian industry researchers who could clearly see the mobile growth and content play through hand-held devices early on. I wish him all the best for the launch of his much awaited book”

ARVIND RAJAGOPAL Author and Professor of Media Studies, New York University

“Amit Khanna is a legendary figure in India’s media and entertainment industry, someone who can provide a historical perspective on its growth and evolution. As a widely-read and much travelled person, he can also offer astute comparisons drawn from across the world to understand what has been happening in the Indian scene”

DR.S.RAGHUNATH Professor of Strategy, IIM Bangalore

“Amit Khanna ji is one of those media and entertainment industry icons whose significance exceeds popular familiarity with his work. His insights and language ensure his contributions are still appreciated for their contemporary outlook and observations. If you look long enough with sufficient determination through his prodigious output, you will find valuable commentary on the current trends in the M&E industry”

KAVERI BAMZAI Author and Journalist

“There are three most remarkable aspects to Amit Khanna. One, his ability to gather talented people around him and mentor them. The professionals at Plus Channel were some of the best in their fields at the time, whether it as in writing or directing or broadcasting. Two, he’s always been ahead of the curve. Plus Channel was one of the first corporate production houses in the country which started the idea of producing a series of movies in a year, and though it eventually folded up, it set the stage for an organised future. And last, he saw the opportunity in globalised filmmaking and as chairman of Reliance Entertainment inked a far reaching agreement with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks. Through it all he has remained a poet, a lyricist, a raconteur and a storyteller who carries the core of the film industry deep within his heart”

RAMESH SHARMA Filmmaker

“Amit Khanna came to limelight in the Hindi film industry as someone related to Dev Anand. But it was as a lyrics writer that he made his reputation. This love for poetry and curiosity about the developments in the film industry made him a prophet of his time and a man ahead of the trends. We used to attend the FICCI and Producers Guild meetings with policymakers in Delhi to discuss the setting up of an independent body, a sort of OFCOM or FCC, to regulate the electronic and TV industry. Amit’s was always a disruptive voice. He was convinced it was only a matter of years before digital media would take over and content would be delivered through the internet. His argument, therefore, was that the government policies or censorship would never be able to keep pace with the changes taking place in technology. When you see the speed with which social media has grown in India, the digital streaming platforms that is making both TV and cinema halls obsolete, you realise how much of a true media prophet he is. A remarkably prescient mind who understands entertainment media like few do in India”

BIREN GHOSE Country Head, Technicolor India

“Amit Khanna has always been ahead of his time. He has spoken not only about where the media and entertainment industry is but where it should be. He made me realize from the earliest times when I met him that he was at an altitude in his thinking that talked of future states. Many people in the industry – in film and television – have seen him as a great mentor. In a fragmented industry that had resisted change for years, he was constantly a part of several forums that tried to make others see the potential in themselves, in the economy and the power of content as consumerism spread across India and its global diaspora. I met Amit in several platforms and saw that his value lay in his ability to visualize what others could not see – to think beyond the self imposed boundaries and risk averseness of many of our industry’s individual content creators, producers and distributors and to continuously evangelize the opportunity in media’s convergence between technology and creativity. He was always trying to suggest that the industry navigates a new course by embracing the digital and used every occasion to spread that mantra. Players like Disney-Star, Sony-Viacom, Zee & Reliance have now shown how his prognosis about scale and value is being realized The lag between his prophesies and what we see unfolding in the market today underscores his visionary ability. The greatest good one can do for another is not just to share your rich ideas but to help others curate their own. Through this book Amit will no doubt continue to inspire and provoke thinking about the Indian entertainment industry as he has done in person across so many instances and platforms”


THE FUTURE IS IN THE PAST

admin   November 24, 2019

The International Film Festival of India gained a status that was on par with Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Karlovi Vary and Moscow because of the quality of its programming and freedom from bureaucratic hurdles. Even though the Festival has failed to live up to our expectations in the recent past, there is still hope that it can be restored to its past glory
By Bobby Bedi

As a student in Delhi in the 70’s I have vivid memories of the Film Festival. It was a big event and all of us hungered for tickets. Films like Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord, Milos Foreman’s “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Coppola’s “Godfather”, and Conrad Rooks’ “Siddhartha” were the class of films screened. The premiere was at Vigyan Bhawan and the festival spread over many cinemas in Connaught Place and even Archana in Greater Kailash. Special guests included Frank Capra and Satyajit Ray, who chaired the third edition. It was recognized by FIAPF, it was considered at par with Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Karlovi Vary and Moscow International Film Festivals. It was run by an autonomous body funded by the Government of India. Tickets were priceless and we used all our connections to get even one. THAT WAS THE PAST.

Today, the Festival is run by the Directorate of Film Festivals and the Director, for many years, has been a bureaucrat. Administrative skills are naturally high, but domain knowledge is negligible. This has resulted in the festival becoming a very middling event and the quality of international cinema has declined.

A nascent Bollywood that should have been a key part of the Festival has stayed away from the Festival; a loss to both. The potential of cross influence has reduced.

Somewhere around early 2002, there was a change in thinking and it was felt that the Festival no longer gained from being in Delhi or itinerant in nature. The Festival should be anchored in a single destination like Cannes, Venice, and Berlin, etc.

Yash Chopra, Manmohan Shetty, Amit Khanna and I were part of a committee that explored the possibility of Goa as a location and with an unstinting and dedicated support from the then Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, the Festival shifted to Goa. The first edition was easily of the calibre of Cannes and Venice. There was a brandnew multiplex, The Kala Academy had been restored by Mario Miranda, the promenade was full of festivity and there were party boats on the river and motorboats to ferry delegates from the Fort Aguada Hotel to the venue. Many companies hosted private events around and Hyundai gave brand-new sedans branded with the Festival logo for delegate transportation.

The attendance was fantastic and the films a cut above the previous years. The world attended it as Goa was a great holiday destination.

AGAIN, THAT WAS THE PAST. It took two years for the event to lose its lustre. The enthusiasm of a start-up, driven by a very dynamic CM, gave in to the powers of routine bureaucracy. But this time there were two bureaucracies, the Centre and the State, and often different parties in the two positions. The result was predictable.

BUT AGAIN, THAT WAS THE PAST. Let’s now look at the future. There have often been suggestions that the festival should be privatized, that the
Industry should take over. This is barking up the wrong tree. There is absolutely no doubt that art and culture needs State support. Festivals all over the world run with state support and yet retain their excellence. A festival in India needs to be world class. After all we are a gigantic film industry. Cinema is integral to Indians and I would even stretch to say that it is one of India’s binding forces. This cannot happen without State support. The method has to change. And we do not need to invent this process. It is there all over the world. We need to study the different models of successful festivals, Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Berlin or even Busan and see what works for us.

I have been attending the Cannes Film festival every year since 1994. Their quality is unmatched, and it is State supported. The difference is that it is not run by the Government. So if need want to see IFFI of the future that is as glorious or more than the past we should adapt and adopt what the best in class are doing.

My broad suggestions are:

• Get a separate body along the lines of a FICCI or CII for the entertainment sector. Let it run independently of the Government.
• The Central Government specify its objectives clearly. This could include Trade objectives, Cultural Objectives, language promotion, local cinema promotion, etc.
• Let the Goa Government clearly specify its own objectives, be it tourism or the local entertainment industry, etc.
• Let these objectives be very clearly articulated in measurable terms. Let the new body draw up budgets and propose to fund the process through grants from the Centre, State, Sponsors and Industry.

Give them a bit of time to set this up and then let their performance be measured against the clearly set objectives. If they are close to fulfilling them, let them be. Do not interfere at all and we will have a great Film Festival.

THE FUTURE WILL BE AS GLORIOUS AS THE PAST.


Featured Post

BACK IN BUSINESS WITH A BANG

admin   November 1, 2019

With the rise of OTT platforms, the demand for scripted dramas is soaring in India. However, there are very few bright minds in the Indian M&E space who have mastered the art of creating and marketing scripted dramas like Bobby Bedi has. After a spell of silence that lasted for almost a decade, Bobby Bedi is back in business with a bang with a number of projects lined up, and it looks like he is set on a mission to dish out some brilliant scripted dramas for a global audience

By Natarajan Vidyasagar & Vivek Ratnakar

For close to a decade, acclaimed Indian film producer Bobby Bedi (Sundeep Singh Bedi) has been just an observer. He has not done any major movie project or produced content. During this time he was creating museums and was dabbling with content every now and then.

When it comes to Indian media and entertainment sector, Bobby is among the brightest creative and business minds. This combination is rare, as in the Indian media and entertainment space you are either bracketed as a creative or a business mind.

Once a salesman at multi-national companies like Philips and Sony, Bobby Bedi through his sheer perseverance as an entrepreneur in the media and entertainment industry, discovered the art of creating and marketing scripted dramas collaborating with top class talent who are now icons in the showbiz domain. To this day, there are very few in the industry who can match the reputation and consistent success that Bobby enjoyed in the scripted drama space.

Bobby’s first film as a producer was “In Which Annie Gives it to Those Ones”. The film was written by the now famous writer Arundati Roy, who also acted in the film. His second film “Electric Moon” was also written by Arundati Roy. His third film “Bandit Queen,” based on the life of Phoolan Devi, was directed by Shekhar Kapur, while dialogues were written by Ranjit Kapoor, and screenplay and book done by Mala Sen.

Script is the soul

In the “Bandit Queen,” script was the soul. Director Shekahr Kapur created the magic by converting a hard hitting script into a “lethal blow in the solar plexus of the world.” This is a classic example of when an idea is turned into movie, it is the harmony of creative contributions—script, camera, sound, art, performances and direction—that creates a great film. The film was premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.

Bobby’s fourth film as a producer was “Fire,” written and directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. His fifth film production “Maqbool” (Favorite), directed by Vishal Bhardwaj and starring Pankaj Kapur, Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Masumeh Makhija, is an adaptation of the play Macbeth by Shakespeare.

Bobby’s next venture “Mangal Pandey: The Rising” is a 2005 Indian historical drama film based on the life of Mangal Pandey, an Indian soldier known for helping to spark the Indian rebellion of 1857 (also known as The First War of Indian Independence). It was directed by Ketan Mehta, and screenplay was done by Farrukh Dhondy. The lead role was played by Aamir Khan. It was followed by “Saathiya” (directed by Shaad Ali and written by Mani Ratnam), “The Stoneman Murders”, and “Chintu Ji…” But no major movie projects were undertaken by him after that. There was just silence.

Come 2019, Bobby is back in business with a bang riding on back of an explosion in the Over The Top Television (OTT) content, turning streaming platforms into mainstream entertainment. “I was doing scripted dramas in India when nobody was doing it. Everybody was doing Bollywood entertainment format which was very popular. We were side business. With the coming of Netflix, Amazon and other platforms, and also because of the dubbing of the major international content, India has got exposed to and now addicted to scripted drama,” says a bullish Bobby Bedi who is on a mission to regain the glory and dish out scripted dramas for a global audience.

His pipeline at his professionally managed Contentflow Studios is overflowing. “We have our own studio in NOIDA, in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. We have our own team and our CEO is managing the business. My job is only to creatively drive it. Before the year is out, we would have done couple of more major projects . Suddenly, we are back in business with a bang,” says Bobby.

Bobby’s recently produced film “Bitter Chestnut,” directed by Gurvinder Singh, is rising on the popularity chart with every passing day. It was showcased at the world premiere of the recently concluded Busan International Film Festival. The film attracted critical acclamation at the 20th Jio MAMI, Mumbai Film Festival. It will continue its festival circuit journey in 2020, beginning with International Film Festival Rotterdam (Jan 22-Feb 2). Gurvinder’s earlier two films “Alms for the Blind Horse” and “Fourth Direction,” premiered at Venice and Cannes Film Festivals and have won numerous international awards.

“The whole premium scripted drama area is pretty much a white space in India, where they make great films, great soap operas… but nobody is really making high-budget, high-quality, 8-10 episode scripted drama.”
James Farrell
Head of International Originals, Amazon Studios

Digital drama

Recently, Bobby Bedi’s Contentflow Studios has signed joint venture agreements with acclaimed film producer Manmohan Shetty (Walkwater Media) and Optimystix Entertainment for a three film deal and set-up a new company.

Contentflow Studios is developing couple of Webseries for MX Player (The Times of India Group). It is also developing digital drama series for Aditya Birla Group’s Applause Entertainment, a leader in content creation and IP Studios led by M&E industry veteran Sameer Nair.

India’s top industrial company Amar Raja Group, Star Entertainment Worldwide and Contentflow Studios have joined hands to create a new content division to produce thriller series “Curse of the Kohinoor,” which will feature leading stars from Telugu Film Industry. “Curse of the Kohinoor,” will be directed by Colin Teague, whose credits include “Dr Who?” and its spin-off “Torchwood.” The heist thriller series tells the story of a plot to steal the Kohinoor diamond, the centrepiece of the British Crown Jewels.

“We have ambitions to create premium scripted series for the Indian and global marketplace,” says Padma Galla, director of Amara Raja Media and Entertainment. The new entity will collaborate with producers and broadcasters across the world.

“We are bringing the very best talent from the Indian and UK scripted worlds together in this premium production for the international market,” says Rahul Aggarwal, Director Star Entertainment.

Surge in demand

Behind all this development is India’s digital dominance to lead the OTT and new emerging online video audience. KPMG in its recent annual M&E 2019 report has projected that the online video audience in India which was 225 million in 2018 is likely to cross 550 million by 2023. India is seeing a surge in demand for mobile and broadband data, which is fuelling growth in the number of subscribers.

The entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm into the segment with its JioGigaFiber technology is set to further reduce broadband rates across the country, fuelling competition and further growth in subscriber base. Jio already has 340 million mobile subscribers.

According to Ericsson, India has the world’s highest per smartphone data usage of 10 GB per month. With video streaming, 10 GB will jump to 18 GB by 2024, says Ericsson.

Bobby Bedi concurs that Jio has transformed India’s content consumption on the mobile. “Jio has helped totally. It has brought prices down. It’s brought telecom majors Vodafone and Airtel down to those levels. Today data is accessible across the country. In fact I have problems in making phone calls, I am finding it easier to make WhatsApp calls and live phone calls on iPhone. Because it is certainly no longer a medium for communication, it seems to be a medium for entertainment”.

Bobby reckons that it’s content and script that will drive this medium. “We have decided that for the first few films we are going to rely on either novels or novelist and published material as the resource material or true stories for our films because we don’t want to work with writers who have three days of partying and come out with a script. If you work on an existing work of fiction then somebody has published work, somebody has given thought to character and story.”

Leonardo Dicaprio & Aamir Khan

He also believes that “films are remembered not because they have stars, but they are remembered because the films themselves”.

“‘Awara’ is remembered because of the Awara Hoon, ‘Shree 420’ is because of Shree 420, ‘Sangam’ because of Sagam. These movies have explored scripted stories of very high calibre. ‘Guide’ of Dev Anand is an R K Narayan story,” he says.

The need of the hour is to have actors who can portray any character on screen. “We need people like Leonardo Dicaprio and Brad Pitt who can play any character. Except for Aamir, stars play themselves.

Alluding to Aamir’s portrayal of a middle-aged father in ‘Dangal’, Bobby says that with Aamir it is very difficult for the audience to understand that it is not Aamir, rather this is this girl’s father. That is why the film did so much better in China than India. Even though it has done very well in India, in China at least they don’t know that they are watching this film for Aamir. There is a damn good actor who is playing father’s role.”

Speaking on the potential challenges of OTT platforms, Bobby says that going forward the biggest challenges would be to maintain profitability and creativity. “Today we are just starting. Series like ‘Sacred Games’ or ‘Made in Heaven’ have wowed audience. But once there are hundreds of series like ‘Sacred Games’ and ‘Made in Heavens’ then you will be fighting for the eyeball. They will also be competing with the rest of the world.”

Bobby is already thinking ahead of competition in terms of content. “I am not even thinking of competing with ‘Sacred Games’. ‘Curse of the Kohinoor’ is about telling the history of gems in India from Independence till today through a fictional story. Hopefully, I line up with a very big star for it. Today one thing that Netflix and Amazon have done is that they have made the world language blend.”

But despite the opportunities OTT space has created, Bobby is of the opinion that it has limited the revenue flow for people like him. “One of the biggest drawbacks of the OTT space is that people like me, people like Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Subhash Ghai, or Raj Kapoor’s family—anybody who had successful slew of important films and has lived of owning those properties and the flow of revenues from them—will be at the receiving end in the long term. OTT is getting more and more into the buyout space.”

“While we create the IP and we make money out of it, we don’t own it and it does not become a returning IP and that to my mind is going to be the biggest problem in film financing in the future. I think that if I have a choice I would fund them… to earn for myself and license them rather than sell them out because I wish to own some of my properties,” he adds.

However, far from being ungrateful, Bobby sees it as an opportunity to convince Indian directors to start creating films with wider global audience in mind. “Indian stories have travelled across the world in the past. Is ‘Gandhi’ not an Indian story? It is an entirely Indian story. Except for one sequence the entire film was shot in India. Likewise, ‘Jungle Book’ and ‘Slumdog (Millionaire)’ are Indian stories. We just need directors to start thinking in that direction.”

“India is home to some of the world’s greatest stories. It’s been thrilling to watch these amazing storytellers embrace the artistic freedom possible at Netflix to create entertaining stories.”
Bela Bajaria,
VP International originals, Netflix

Content-driven cinema

As an insider who has seen the Indian Media and Entertainment space transform from close quarters, Bobby has some more insights to share. To ride the new wave of content-driven cinema, he says that it is imperative that “we have to become less greedy”.

“Presently, if this money is flowing the industry has the habit of putting all the money in the bag. But we need to change and find ways as to how we can put the money back to derive more value out of it.”

“The reason that we are behind in the game is that India never needed scripted dramas. But now when we need scripted dramas, we don’t have good writers. A lot of platforms including Hotstar have introduced big writers programme; Yashraj has a writers programme; Reliance has a writers programme; and Zee is also trying to create one.”

Bobby can clearly see the existing gaps and is ready to fill them up by building strong partnerships with the international M&E community. He believes that his efforts will pay once India gets used to large format proper scripted dramas. “Then there is no going back. People will never go back to Saas Bahu dramas.”

Having set high standards in the Indian M&E space through his work, Bobby’s eyes sparkle with anticipation when he talks about the future. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be to take Indian stories to global audience, transcending the barriers of geography, language and culture, to communicate with the world, and bring the humanity closer using the universal language of cinema.