“Indian audiences have such a voracious appetite for content that these days the reception for films and original web shows is almost equal,” said Aparna Purohit, Head of India Originals, Amazon Prime Video.
In an interview with The Federal, Aparna also shed light on how the Malayalam film industry gained much-needed recognition during the lockdown. The idea is to tell more stories deeply rooted in the cultural milieu where the story takes place, which can break all boundaries, she said.
“They mostly binge-watch web shows at night and prefer watching films during the day. Six-and-a-half years ago, Amazon Prime had films and TV shows. In recent times, we have created rooted web shows that have legs for multiple seasons. Today, we have a plethora of content for the Indian audiences and we are also taking our content to the global audiences, said Aparna, who took over as the Head of India Originals at Amazon Prime Video in 2016.
The growth of Amazon Prime Video was evident outside India even before the lockdown, but in India, the boom of OTT platforms happened only during the pandemic.
“Pandemic was a difficult time for all of us. Staying indoors with fear only mounted more pressure on us. Glad that we could provide some sort of relief for them through our wide range of content. They say when people start doing something for a certain period, it would become their permanent habit. That’s what exactly happened here. Now, the barriers have come down. People are watching international shows, and films, and are also interested to watch our original content. Not just audiences, creators also feel our space is liberating for them as they can create whatever content they want without any limitations.”
Original content – the only watchword
When asked to walk us through the process of curating an original web show, Aparna gave the example of Suzhal, the Tamil show now streaming on Amazon Prime.
“Well, we can take Suzhal as an example. Generally, we are in touch with talented filmmakers and I was in touch with Pushkar-Gayathri right from the time I was floored by their incredible film Vikram Vedha. When I asked them if they had any ideas for web shows, they came up with the core plot of Suzhal. It’s a story about a missing girl from a small industrial town in Tamil Nadu. Though it’s a suspense drama from the surface level, the story has many hidden secrets and creates chaos in the entire town. Stories like these have scope for multiple seasons and we could instantly connect with the characters. They told me that the show would be in Tamil and I was absolutely fine. There is no language barrier for us,” she said.
“Once we love the idea, the development process begins. The script of some shows would be completed in six to nine months and there are instances where creators took nearly two to three years. We wouldn’t pressure them much. Our team would support them with any kind of research work, location recce, and creative collaborations during this phase. We would go to the shoot only after completing the screenplay for all the episodes and creating leads for subsequent seasons. We were hit by two lockdowns while making Suzhal, but the entire team maintained the same energy throughout,” she added.
Aparna also shared her thoughts on how the Malayalam film industry gained much-needed recognition during the lockdown.
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“My dad doesn’t know Malayalam but he watched and loved both Kumbalangi Nights and The Great Indian Kitchen. This content consumption happens organically and once people watch good content in a particular language, they search for more such content. The boom of OTT platforms has certainly helped such good content to wider audiences.”
Currently, Prime Video has content from 10 languages and Aparna says they have a long way to go.
Amazon Prime Video is also dubbing Indian shows in foreign languages. “We take a call on dubbing our content in multiple languages based on the content. The entire PR, marketing, and other teams loved Suzhal and we are dubbing it in 30 languages and it’s going to release in nearly 240 countries,” she said.
Suzhal is the first Tamil show to be dubbed in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish.
Global reach of desi content
Do they add elements that attract viewers from foreign countries? “We are only looking for more rooted content. People across the globe only look for content that is deeply rooted in the cultural milieu of where the story takes place. Only such authentic content breaks boundaries and reaches more audiences. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an American period comedy-drama, but it reached various parts of the world through our platform. Similarly, many Indian films and shows are reaching global audiences,” Aparna said.
“Be it Suzhal or the Indian Police Force, we only cater our content to Indian audiences but as they stay original and rooted, people from foreign countries are also interested to watch them.”
Soorarai Pottru is one of the biggest hits for Amazon Prime Video. When asked about the demographics of the film, Aparna says, “Although I’m only concentrating on original content and not film acquisition, I can say that 50 per cent of the viewers for any film are from outside their home state or country, which is incredible because creators want their content to have a wider reach and it happens now with the help of platforms like Amazon Prime Video.”
On Soorarai Pottru
Aparna called Soorarai Pottru’s actor and producer Suriya “a creative genius” with whom Amazon Prime shares a wonderful relationship and an association that will continue with many interesting contents.
In Tamil, Amazon Prime’s first anthology was Putham Puthu Kaalai with big names like Gautham Menon, Rajiv Menon, Sudha Kongara, and Suhasini but compared to the first season, the second season was helmed by relative newcomers.
“We don’t want to limit ourselves only to big filmmakers. Our first and foremost priority is to find the right story. Strong content only excites us. Yes, we are happy with our partnerships with leading filmmakers and production houses but at the same time, if we get a brilliant script from a young filmmaker, we wouldn’t say no. The starting point is always a good story,” she signed off.