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Rich original stories separate India from other markets, says Amazon’s James Farrell

Amazon Prime Video provides larger global reach to film stars than feature films attracting them to the OTT platform, says Producer Ritesh Sidhwani at the launch of original series ‘Made In Heaven’

Ever since the launch of Amazon Prime Video India in 2016, the video platform has grown to be one of the biggest competitors in the country’s OTT market -- offering a slew of high-profile shows such as Inside Edge with Vivek Oberoi, Breathe with R Madhavan among others.

The platform recently announced a line-up of seven new Indian originals, apart from Akshay Kumar’s multi-season series ‘The End’ and Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby’s ‘Made In Heaven’.

Speaking about the uniqueness of Indian market at the launch of Made In Heaven, James Farrell, Head of International Originals, Prime Video, said that the richness of original content in India is what separates it from other markets. “So many original stories are being made in India and that is actually what separates India from the global market. Several countries showcase biographies of famous people or they want to adapt popular novels. In India, all the content that we have released so far is truly original and this series is a perfect example. Zoya Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani have the story and wanted to tell the story,” he said.

Apart from The End and Made In Heaven, the platform is also working on the second season of ‘Inside Edge,’ ‘Breathe’ and ‘Mirzapur’. It is also said to be working on a romantic musical ‘Bandish Bandits,’ crime thriller ‘The Last Hour,’ two untitled drama series, one reality series, one Telugu original and a Tamil version of comic reality show ‘Comicstaan.’

When asked about the factors taken into consideration while selecting scripts for the platform, Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon (Worldwide), replied that the majority of decisions depends on the script and how passionate and deeply the creator cares about the story.

In the past few years, OTT platforms such as Amazon and Netflix have managed to draw popular actors and directors from Bollywood. Amazon Prime is associated with Bollywood personalities like Abhishek Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar, Ritesh Sidhwani, Vivek Oberoi and R Madhavan among others.

So, what attracts these popular actors to the OTT platform? Film producer Sidhwani said, “I think it is more about the sensibilities which match and I think Amazon Prime Video is a great platform with a reach across 200 countries. I think with Features, we couldn’t have reached there. Whereas with Amazon Prime, we have an opportunity of getting into the mainstream in countries such as the US and UK and many other markets and I think it is growing. I think this is very different from films as they have a certain limitation whereas Amazon as a platform is more about getting stories to every possible home. So it is good. But, when it comes to deciding what goes on which platform, it depends more on the writing, which decides what kind of platform it goes on.”

As the OTT platforms grow and A-listers make a shift, several reports hint at the decline of the importance of the big screen. Experts also talk about the dip in the creativity of filmmakers since the advent of OTT platforms.

But director and screenwriter Zoya Akhtar explains that both are different mediums that follow different styles of storytelling. “There are certain ideas that are fit for a short film and they can’t be stretched. I have certain ideas that are fit for features and there are certain ideas for the long format. They also offer a very different experience. In cinema, it is a collective experience whereas digital is more of a visual book. Digital is personal to me and nothing can interchange those experiences. I also believe stories make themselves. ‘Made in Heaven’ would not make as good a film as a series. The reason being the kind of topic we touched upon, the layer of characters that we show, the society that we live and delve into, these wouldn’t have happened with the movies, so they are not interchangeable. Big screen is not dead. The same thing happened with satellite television. Everyone was like, ‘Oh cinema is dead’, and still everyone is going to the theatre. Even when home theatre was launched, everyone was saying who will go to the theatre. But the theatres still exist and people still go there,” she said.

In the past year, not only star-studded content but women-centric shows have also taken precedence. Speaking about the increase in women-centric shows, Aparna Purohit, Head of Creative Development, Amazon Prime, said, “It is amazing that most of the content which is made is women-centric or has strong women characters. It is an amazing time for women. As a women executive at Amazon, I couldn't be happier. Also, at Amazon, we are committed to bring in fresh, independent cinematic voices and offer it to our consumer and we couldn't be happier. There are many stories to come.”

Salke added, “I feel so fortunate to be in this company at the time where women’s voices have been amplified and there are so many female executives and leaders in the entire industry who are owning their passion. Customers are appreciative of such content.”

But while the OTT platforms are growing in terms of consumption, they are also losing a chunk of revenue to piracy. Salke said piracy is a rampant issue for all mediums, be it streaming sites or traditional mediums and it is a sort of challenge that we have to live with.

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