Netflix has expanded existing partnerships in India and forged new ones with several of the country’s leading production houses.
They include T-Series, Red Chillies Entertainment, Pooja Entertainment, Viacom 18 Studios, Luv Films, Reliance Entertainment, RSVP Movies, Benaras Media Works, Maddock Films, Junglee Pictures, Balaji Telefilms and Matchbox Shots.
Monika Shergill, VP, content, Netflix India, says: “With some studios, we have a partnership to bring more of their films on the service, like T series – we’ve been doing so many films with them – Pooja Entertainment, RSVP, Red Chillies, they’ve been long standing partners. But across the board, we are working with many.”
Shergill spoke with Variety on Monday, a day Netflix celebrated in India as Films Day, with a showcase of previously announced titles. “Where we are coming from, is to keep broadening the service, to keep increasing access, to keep reaching newer and newer audiences. And that is where we have very carefully and very passionately curated our film slate, whether it’s through original films, or the post-theatrical slate, for which we’ve tied up with partners,” Shergill said.
The Films Day celebrated a mix of already released, previously announced and new titles, all in the Hindi language. They include “Darlings,” a film revolving around domestic abuse, co-produced by and starring Bollywood A-lister Alia Bhatt, which debuted as the biggest non-English language original film opener for the service worldwide.
Other titles showcased on Films Day included: “Chakda ‘Xpress,” a film inspired by the life of cricketer Jhulan Goswami starring Anushka Sharma; heist thriller “Chor Nikal Ke Bhaga,” starring Yami Gautam; “Jogi,” set during the 1984 Delhi riots, starring Diljit Dosanjh and directed by Ali Abbas Zafar (“Sultan”); satire “Kathal,” starring Sanya Malhotra; Vishal Bhardwaj’s spy thriller “Khufiya,” starring Tabu, Ali Fazal and Azmeri Haque Badhon; and Vasan Bala’s whodunnit “Monica O My Darling,” with Rajkummar Rao, Huma S. Qureshi, and Radhika Apte.
Other titles featured on the day included Shashanka Ghosh’s romantic comedy “Plan A Plan B,” starring Riteish Deshmukh and Tamannaah Bhatia; intense drama “Qala,” directed by Anvita Dutt; Zoya Akhtar’s comic book adaptation “The Archies”; and the Indian adaptation of “The Devotion of Suspect X,” headlined by Kareena Kapoor Khan and directed by Sujoy Ghosh (“Kahaani”).
Shergill points out that 28 Indian films have featured in the Netflix non-English top 10 charts this year, there was a week where five Indian titles featured on Netflix’s global top 10 list, and that viewership of Indian films on the service has gone up by 50% from last year. Hits for the service also include “Gangubai Kathiawadi,” “RRR” and “Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.”
“All of it points to not just the passion that Indian audiences have for cinema in India, but also that we are doing something right, the kind of stories that we are selecting, that we are bringing to the audiences, what we are learning from them, the cues that we are getting from them, what they are liking, it’s actually making us deliver better,” says Shergill.
The executive is bullish about the streamer’s growth in an ultra-competitive Indian streaming market. Besides growing Hindi-language content, the strategy for the next five years is to expand further on the steps it has taken in the South Indian Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam languages, both in post-theatrical acquisitions and commissioning originals. The three languages are a “very big area of focus” and Netflix is “looking at a very strong line up,” Shergill says. As the streamer’s efforts in dubbing and subtitling increase, the audience is “becoming more language agnostic,” she says.
India also has a strong cohort of streamers catering specifically to individual languages but Netflix has no plans in its roadmap to micro-target these, instead focusing on “big and diverse entertainment,” Shergill says. “I can very confidently tell you that at Netflix we would perhaps be the only service, if I look into the future, to be programming the most diverse content across formats,” says Shergill. “When I say big, I mean big in terms of scale and ambition and have a lineup between local and global, which caters to a broad audience.”
Meanwhile, Shergill says that the Netflix slate is maturing. She cites the success of season 2 of “Delhi Crime,” which is proving to be a critical success and audience favorite.
“Streaming is a medium where you cannot run away from what is at the core of your storytelling, and that’s great writing. Because the minute you open your app, you have a crazy number of choices in front of you, and nobody can force you to sit and watch and spend your time on something,” says Shergill. “What we look for are great scripts.”