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The Netflix story- Cinema express

The Netflix story

The director of Netflix’s International Original Film department, Srishti Behl Arya, talks to us about building the Indian slate for the streaming giant

Published: 07th September 2020

Authenticity and Diversity. These two words often pop up in conversation with Srishti Behl Arya, the mind behind Netflix’s original slate in India. “We look for passionate creators. If we are enjoying what we make, we hope our audiences will enjoy them too,” says Shristi. “Storytelling barriers are being broken every day. People don’t want to get stuck with one kind of content.”

Srishti says there is no preset checklist to ensure this. “It is a human process. We want to be the best partners for our creators.” She and her team identify the root of what each creator wants to say. “Once we like the vision, then we turn into facilitators. We share our experiences and hurdles with them, especially with technology. We want our creators to tell their stories with full creative freedom, in the form they believe is the best fit for the story. We act as guides too, reminding creators of their original vision.”

Srishti takes the example of Anvita Dutt’s Bulbbul. The film was Netflix’s first project with Clean Slate, and featured a debutant director as well. But the minute they heard the story, Srishti knew they had to take it up. “It was an important story and we wanted her to put it out exactly as she had imagined.” This led to discussions on how Anvita would translate the visceral nature of the script onto the screen. “We worried and argued about outdoor shoots. The team wanted to shoot in Kolkata but there was a storm, and lightning hit the set once. It felt like the Chudail from the story was out to get us,” says Srishti, laughing. But in the end, for her, it was about backing the creator to deliver the best version of the story. “The result is out there to be seen. It's a story we know, but one we have never seen this way before.”

With a strong background in television production, Srishti is confident that the emotions audiences seek are the same, no matter the platform. “The beauty of a service like ours is that the story gets told in its best form. Be it a mini-series or one that has multiple seasons or a feature film, we have no restrictions when it comes to duration, no demands for song placements...”

Keen to shed its initial image of being an elite service, Netflix, over the years, has grown to become a big player in the Indian digital entertainment market. The platform is investing Rs 3000 crores in India for 2019-2020 for all Indian content including original films, series, and licensed titles. “The money is a sign of our commitment to this. It is a recognition of how important India is to Netflix.” However, this ‘inclusivity’ hasn’t yet translated to the regional original content. The streaming giant recently faced flak for announcing 17 new originals, without a single title from the South. “We were getting ready for it. Regional cinema is an area of focus for us. We are quietly building a base, not just with Tamil and Telugu but with other regional industries as well. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss the projects right now, but I would say, wait and watch.”

Netflix scores well in women representation with more than fifty percent of Netflix’s films launched in India having female protagonists (Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, Bulbbul, Guilty, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl etc). The streaming platform has also increasingly worked with women creators, both newcomers and experienced. “A lot of democracy has been brought into the process of storytelling; more diverse storytellers are coming forward. It also helps us that here, at Netflix, we have a lot of women. A diverse team helps shape what we look at and identify with,” says Srishti.

The objective, however, remains the same: identifying what subscribers will enjoy the most. “We want to ensure you have something to watch for every mood,” says Srishti. Netflix attempts to achieve this not only by collaborating with diverse creators but by also providing a space for the various voices each creator has. “When you take AK vs AK, you can see a different Vikramaditya Motwane, from Sacred Games where he was the showrunner. It is the same with Choked and Anurag Kashyap. On one hand, we have more than ten first-time directors, and on the other hand, we have experienced names like Sooni Taraporevala who returned to helm Yeh Ballet after 12 years. You can't be diverse if you play by the old rules.”

Srishti finds it gratifying when creators come back to work with them. For instance, after the reception Lust Stories garnered across the world (including an Emmy nomination), the directors wanted to team up again for Ghost Stories. “When the creators are excited about something, it translates to the viewers. We love our creators coming back to us as it speaks about the experience they had and the chemistry they shared with us.” But the story… that always comes first. “The main question we ask is, will our subscribers enjoy this?”

There is also an attempt to not be indulgent in providing one kind of experience. For every Bhaag Beanie Bhaag, there is A Suitable Boy. For every star-driven title, Srishti says a Kamyaab looks to balance the scales. “If you break down those 17 titles, you will find a lot of diversity. It is like a report card. At the end of the year, we ask you how we did and then, we look to get even better!” 

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