Netflix to cater to big appetite for Indian content, CEO “Excited”


Indians’ appetite for local content on streaming sites is growing and Netflix is giving exactly what its members from the country want – India original content.

“There has been tremendous traction… Everyone has been talking about ‘Lust Stories’ and ‘Sacred Games’. We have ‘Delhi Crime’ coming out this week. So, there’s lots that’s happening on the original front,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said during a tete-a-tete with select media from across the world at Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters on Sunset Boulevard on Monday.

'Selection Day' is Netflix's best Indian series to date
FILE – This Oct. 11, 2011 file photo, shows the exterior of Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. Netflix will still be there for fans of the old TV series “Friends,” but maintaining the relationship will come at a steep price. The New York Times reported that Netflix paid $100 million to keep showing “Friends” on its U.S. service through 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

“Delhi Crime” by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta will be available to Netflix members worldwide from March 22. The first season of the seven-part series is inspired by and follows the notorious December 2012 investigation by the Delhi Police into the gang rape of a young woman.

The series, starring Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal and Rajesh Tailang, captures the complexities of the scrutiny, the emotional toll on the investigating team, and their determination to bring the perpetrators to justice in a fraught environment.

Actress Madhuri Dixit Nene and her husband Shriram Nene’s upcoming Marathi production “15 August” is set to release on Netflix on March 29. Set in a Mumbai chawl, the film follows the course of a series of mishaps that occur on a single day, as its residents prepare for the Independence Day flag-hoisting ceremony.

This will be followed by “Selection Day: Part 2”, which will start streaming from April. The series is a coming-of-age drama about two brothers — Radha and Manju — who are raised by their strict, obsessive father to be star cricket players in India. The cast includes Ratna Pathak Shah, Mahesh Manjrekar, Rajesh and debutantes Yash Dholye and Mohammad Samad.

“Selection Day: Part 2” will follow the story of Manju and Radha, who go to Mumbai to follow their cricket dream.

Another Indian series to get a second season is “Sacred Games”. Based on author Vikram Chandra’s best-selling novel, the first season of the series received viewer appreciation and critical acclaim worldwide for its gritty plot and power-packed performances.

The series tells the tale of Sartaj, a seasoned and cynical Mumbai police officer who is summoned one morning by an anonymous tip which promises him an opportunity to capture the powerful Ganesh Gaitonde, criminal overlord of the G-Company.

Still from ‘Firerand’ – Netflix

Season 2 will be back with a new trail of betrayal, crime, passion and a thrilling chase through Mumbai’s underbelly.

“Leila” is also a book to screen adaptation. Based on the book by Prayaag Akbar, “Leila” stars actors Huma Qureshi, Siddharth, Rahul Khanna and Sanjay Suri, amongst others. It will be launched on June 14.

The six-episode series is a dystopian work of fiction set in the near future and follows the journey of Shalini, a mother in search of her daughter Leila whom she lost one tragic summer. Shalini deals with various hardships in the course of her search, in a story of longing, faith and loss. The series is directed by Deepa Mehta, Shanker Raman and Pawan Kumar.

The India content slate also includes “Chopsticks”, “Bard of Blood”, “Baahubali” and “Typewriter”.

India, where Reliance Jio Infocomm has set an example for the world to emulate by widening low-cost Internet access, is a competitive and exciting market with its diverse dynamics and large pool of stories, says Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

“There has been tremendous traction… Everyone has been talking about ‘Lust Stories’ and ‘Sacred Games’. We have ‘Delhi Crime’ coming out this week. So, there’s lots that’s happening on the original front.

“There is also lots happening on Amazon, and on Hotstar, which is now going to be owned by Disney… It’s a super competitive, exciting market,” Hastings said during a tete-a-tete with select media from across the world at Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters on Sunset Boulevard on Monday.

Netflix US. (Photo: Twitter/@netflix)

Hastings, who pointed out how there is “nothing more impressive in the world than what Reliance Jio has done in the past four years in India” to widen Internet accessibility, said these are good times for content creators in the region too.

“If you were an Indian content creator (earlier), there were very few places to go, and now there are many places to go. So, people are pouring in. There are amazing amounts of stories that are coming up.

“It’s going to be a very exciting and competitive market,” he asserted, adding: “I am very pleased with our performance there.”

According to the Ficci-EY Media and Entertainment report 2019, the huge appetite for local content is driving Netflix’s India original content. On an average, once every two weeks a new local high-quality series/film will launch on Netflix India.

The global visibility is also impressive if one goes by the numbers. Two of every three viewers of “Sacred Games” were from outside India, driven by being subtitled in 24 languages and dubbed in English, Brazilian Portuguese, Latin Spanish and Turkish.

But the popularity of Indian content in other countries varies.

“Like ‘Love Per Square Foot’ was strictly classic Bollywood. But ‘Sacred Games’ and ‘Lust Stories’, those crossovers made us more optimistic,” Hastings said.

“We try to tell the best stories we can. Sometimes they are ready, sometimes they take longer. It really varies by that. There are so many streaming services, but if you think about how many networks there are on cable in India, there are way more than 34. I think there’s a lot of room to do different kinds of stories,” he added.

What's new on Netflix Canada, CraveTV and Amazon Prime Video in August

Hastings also touched upon the self-regulatory Code of Best Practices that Netflix and players like Hotstar signed under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

“None of us want strict government regulation on content. We can be flexible and can protect creative freedom a little better if we are a little bit proactive,” he explained.

As far as talks on online censorship is concerned in India, Hastings commented: “We are seeing the discussion on online censorship, but we haven’t seen any activity right now.

“It’s just before the elections. We are hoping the talk moves on because it’s a challenging time to talk about anything like that. So in general, people around the world…and I am talking about adults, not children, want to watch what they want to watch, and the Internet represents that freedom.”