The series is coproduced by the $60 billion Aditya Birla group’s prolific content production arm, Applause Entertainment, headed by Indian television pioneer Sameer Nair and Film Companion, one of India’s leading English-language entertainment journalism platforms, led by former Variety journalist Anupama Chopra.
Originated by former Film Companion journalist Baradwaj Rangan and Avinash Prakash, who works for the platform, the series developed because Chopra felt the dearth of credible documentaries on contemporary Indian cinema.
“I feel like the Indian film industry is not very good with archiving,” Chopra told Variety. “I couldn’t even think of one or two really solid documentaries, which capture an artist at a place and a time, which then becomes a portrait not just of the artists, but also of that specific zeitgeist and of that specific moment in history.”
Nair added: “Usually when you talk about masters, it always goes into the 1960s and 1970s, and the great art house movements and all of that. So the idea was to explore more modern contemporary creators, and do a deep dive and get under their skin and into their minds.”
The choice of Rajamouli as the subject of the first documentary is not surprising, given that the filmmaker is currently on a white hot streak at the U.S. awards season with “RRR.”
Chopra calls the series the deepest dive she has ever taken in her career as usually the entertainment journalism format is restricted to promotional interviews or interviews which are of 40-60 minutes duration. The “Modern Masters” format allowed her to explore the subjects in much more depth. The Rajamouli documentary for example, follows him to Japan for the “RRR” release in that country and to the U.S. as part of the film’s awards promotions tour.
“Rajamouli’s journey from being a Telugu-language filmmaker, to a pan-India filmmaker, to now a global filmmaker is unprecedented,” said Chopra, adding that while late Oscar winner Satyajit Ray had his audience in the West as does Mira Nair, they haven’t had the same trajectory as Rajamouli, whose market and global footprint keeps getting wider.
“Ten years later, Rajamouli will be in a different place than he is today. But this should be the definitive portrait of the man and the artist right now,” Chopra said. “All these people who are right now shaping pop culture and what’s shaping India – because cinema is such a potent force in India – I feel we need to record this, and that’s what ‘Modern Masters’ is.”
The rest of the people featured in the series are under wraps at the moment.
Documentaries will be between 60-90 minutes each and the series is headed for a major streamer in the second half of 2023. Nair feels that with the streamers transforming the world into a global village and an increasing international awareness of the Indian film industry, there will be widespread interest in the series.
Beyond India, the logical expansion point for the series would be the other South Asian film industries, Nair and Chopra said. “The global south would make for a good hunting ground for masters – starting with India, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, there’s so many,” Nair said.
Next up for Applause in the non-scripted space is a documentary on the effect of climate change in India, the logistics of food in India and a documentary series on Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, directed by Viraf Sarkari in conjunction with Salman Khan Films and Wizcraft, which is in post. There are also reality shows that are being developed, Nair said.
For Film Companion, the plan is to get into more long form video journalism. “”Modern Masters’ is a logical next step. And I would like to continue to push this thing where we’re creating specials that go beyond what we do right now, in our day-to-day life, which is the promotional interview, or which is the the one-hour, more casual conversation. I feel like we need to do deeper dives,” Chopra said.