Due in the first half of 2023 is war epic film “Pippa,” a coproduction with Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP, directed by Raja Krishna Menon (“Airlift”) and starring Ishaan (“A Suitable Boy”) and Mrunal Thakur (“Sita Ramam”) with music by A.R. Rahman. Arshad Syed’s film “Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan?,” coproduced by Junglee Pictures, is a screwball comedy starring Taapsee Pannu (“Blurr”) and Pratik Gandhi (“Scam 1992”). Another film, comedy-drama “Bas Karo Aunty!,” stars Ishwak Singh (“Rocket Boys”), is directed by debutant Abhishek Sinha, written by Nitesh Tiwari (“Dangal”), and coproduced by Tiwari’s Earthsky Pictures and RSVP for Disney+ Hotstar.
Returning series include the second seasons of “Aranyak” and “Rocket Boys,” on Netflix and SonyLIV respectively.
There are eight new series in various stages of development. These include a series created by Nagraj Manjule (“Jhund”) that explores the world of the gambling game “matka” and the dangerous men who ran it. Vishnuvardhan, director of Amazon Prime Video film “Shershaah,” will make his series directorial debut with an epic action drama across multiple seasons, which will tell the story of an integral part of India’s 20th century military history.
“Ariyippu” director Mahesh Narayanan will helm a multi-season spy thriller set across the Middle East and South Asia. Hardik Mehta, director of Busan selection “Kaamyaab,” will headline a family drama series set across Europe, Africa, and India in the world of warring business families. Abbas Tyrewala (“Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na”) will write and showrun a spy action-drama series, set in the world of South Asian counterintelligence.
BAFTA Breakthrough 2022 honoree Arati Kadav (“Cargo”) is creating a series which will be a quirky take on romance in the sci-fi genre. Ad filmmaker Bhavesh Kapadia will make his directorial debut with a female-led comic thriller series. And, Anubhav Chopra (Netflix’s “House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths”) will write and direct a young adult drama series, set in a modern-day high school.
Roy Kapur Films also has in development a multi-part English-language series adaptation of William Dalrymple’s 2019 bestseller “The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company.”
Roy Kapur recently stepped down after six years as president of the Producers’ Guild of India, where he successfully weathered many storms during his tenure, including providing for industry workers during COVID-19 and leading the industry against defamation of Bollywood by some Indian TV channels. During his time he has observed the industry closely.
“2022 should not be looked at as the year when we take any definitive predictions for the future because it was a year of flux with both creators as well as audiences just coming back into a post-pandemic scenario. In terms of where things are at both theatrically as well as on the streaming platforms, it’s a bit of everyone just finding their feet again,” Roy Kapur told Variety.
“If there are some early trends to look at, and that might be harbingers of what’s to come on the theatrical front, it does seem like the big ticket spectacle films are the ones that people are coming out to watch – films that are probably are larger than life experiences. Films that have a communal viewing experience built into them, like probably horror or thrillers, as well, are films that are theatrically definitely working better than others,” added Roy Kapur. “On the other hand, films that are not genre films that are maybe in the drama space or light comedy space that might be films that you can very easily consume in the comfort of your home without it needing to be a cinematic experience, seem to not really be finding takers at the cinema halls right now.”
The biggest trend of 2022 at the Indian box office was films from southern India being massive hits across the country while the Hindi-language Bollywood has had just a handful of hits. Roy Kapur says that this was not a sudden trend with audiences across India getting used to watching dubbed versions of South Indian films on satellite channels over the past decade and especially during the two years of the pandemic, and therefore becoming more open to the directors, the stars and the style of storytelling from there.
“Naturally, you have to give credit to the filmmakers and to the kinds of films that they’ve made. So from ‘K.G.F. 2’ to ‘RRR’ to ‘Pushpa,’ these were all movies that really did incredibly well and crossed over from the south of India to the north of India. I’m hopeful that we also managed to crossover the other way around, because it can only be good for Indian cinema on the whole,” said Roy Kapur.
Speaking of the high failure rate among Bollywood films Roy Kapur said that a lot of the films catering to an urban audience were greenlit and produced in pre-pandemic times. Now, post-pandemic, the urban audiences that made those films successes aren’t returning in the numbers that they used to, whereas audiences in second and third tier centers are returning for films catering to the mass market.
A big gainer at the Indian box office has been Hollywood with “Avatar: The Way of Water” being one of the biggest hits of the year and on track to dethrone “Avengers: Endgame” as the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time in the territory. Roy Kapur said that during his tenure at Disney, the internal discussions focused on the fact that Hollywood would at best capture 10% of the Indian box office and the focus shifted to producing local content. However, with Disney and other Hollywood majors spending time and effort marketing Hollywood to a wide mainstream audience dubbing them in multiple languages, which coincided with the superhero film, the creature film, the disaster film and the VFX heavy film boom in Hollywood, that wall has been breached. In 2021, Hollywood accounted for 11% of Indian box office, according to the latest EY report on the industry.
“The quality of visual effects, the sheer scale of those movies just lends themselves to the big screen viewing experience so beautifully. The fact that they’re not dialogue heavy, they don’t really require plot and dialogue at a very core level to be able to appreciate them, and therefore dubbed versions can work across cultures and have been working. Indian audiences are taking to that kind of films in the cinema hall because they’re not really getting that from their local makers because the scope of the imagination and those budgets are so incredible, that they are getting their cinematic fix from those movies now,” said Roy Kapur, adding that Hollywood’s theatrical popularity is limited to the event films, not so much the dramas, comedies, rom-coms and animated films. “The Avengers and the Avatars of the world can can compete with any film from Hindi as well as the South,” Roy Kapur said.
On India’s streaming market, for which his company is a key content provider, Roy Kapur said: “It’s been the golden age for streaming in India, the kind of content that you get to be able to create and watch – there really hasn’t been a better time. All kinds of shows, from investigative to thrillers, to horror, to drama, to comedy, to slice-of-life, to legal thrillers – it really is such fertile ground for creators to be able to hone their craft to be able to tell stories that they perhaps felt held back from being able to tell theatrically because of the commercial pressures involved.”
Inevitably, Roy Kapur feels that there will be consolidation in the streaming space with the nearly 50 platforms in India reducing to 10 in the next three to five years and rationalization in current production practices.
“There definitely has been a certain rationalization of budgets and spends in the last few months, which was bound to happen at some point of time. There will be big bets taken, there will be those few shows each streaming platform bets on each year that they want to really be able to create impact. But if you need to create that volume of content that is required to feed each of these services, they are going to be more profit and loss focused going forward rather than just subscription focused in terms of growing subscribers. Each one of them is really looking at being able to rationalize to some extent on the volume as well as on the per show budgets,” said Roy Kapur.
As for Indian-produced streaming shows making a global impact, like “Delhi Crime” did, Roy Kapur feels that the time is not far off.
“I think it’s inevitable that in the next two or three years, you will have a few Indian shows that managed to break through and become global phenomena. When you see what’s happened with ‘RRR,’ purely by being on a streaming service like Netflix, the sort of visibility that is managed to get – of course, all credit to the film – but the fact that it was able to be distributed so widely on such a significant platform has brought it front and center into the minds of a global audience,” said Roy Kapur. “And so today, I think we have no excuse. Earlier, we used to moan about the fact that distribution was so difficult in countries where we were trying to reach out to a non-South Asian diaspora. Today with streamers we have the ability to do that. So it’s now all on us. And I think we need to take that challenge up and say that we will do it and hopefully in the next three years it will happen.”