This year’s Emmy Awards, one of the biggest nights on world television, were particularly historic for India. It was the second year in a row that several Indian TV shows were nominated and the first time an Indian series had won. Crime of Delhi, an eight-part Netflix drama exploring a brutal rape case in 2012, took home the award for best international series.
In fact, all of the Indian nominations were for shows created by Netflix or Amazon Prime. In the past two years, streaming has radically changed India’s national creative landscape and created a new global audience for Indian series and movies. According to Amazon Prime, 20% of the viewers of its original Indian content are now from outside India.
“India is a land of storytellers, but for a long time, due to the formulaic nature of film and television, there was no representation of all kinds of stories,” said Aparna Purohit, head of original content at Amazon Prime India. “Streaming has democratized that. Stories that were not collected before, topics that were ignored or avoided, now there is a space for them ”.
The two largest streaming platforms, Netflix and Amazon Prime, arrived in India four years ago, but only in the last two years has it started to pick up momentum.
But as the platforms began to flourish, they have faced a growing backlash from hard-line right-wing groups in India, who have accused Netflix and Amazon of creating content that “damages the fabric of Indian society.” While the platforms were previously free of the censorship that controls all film and television in India, allowing for new and bolder programming, the government declared in November that all streaming platforms would be regulated.
In a country of more than 1.3 billion people, half of whom are under the age of 25, Amazon and Netflix have made huge investments to tap into the profit potential. According to senior executives, India is now experiencing the highest growth of any global broadcast market.
In 2019-20, Netflix invested $ 400 million (£ 293 million) creating original shows and released more than 30 pieces of original Indian content. Amazon Prime now has customers in more than 4,300 towns and cities in India and has around 50 programs in different stages of development. In addition to programs in Hindi and English, both platforms are creating original content in regional languages, including Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam.
“This year has been an incredible year for us in India because we are one of the fastest growing markets in all of Netflix globally,” said Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content for Netflix India. “We have a huge new member base in India who we have found are hungry for different stories and formats.”
Several shows made in India had reached Netflix’s Top 10 in countries around the world, with the reality show. Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives and children’s entertainment Mighty little Bheem cited as recent global successes, Shergill said.
Although India has its thriving Bollywood film industry and long-running television series culture, there was no industrial tradition of long-running immersive storytelling that streaming services are known for. Much of the initial investment from Netflix and Amazon went to creating a new pool of talent.
“We had to build it, brick by brick,” said Amazon Prime’s Purohit. “We invested a lot in development, and it took us a long time to green light the projects. We started organizing writers’ workshops where we brought in new veteran writers and creators and show runners. Just trial and error, working and learning along the way. ”At first, the big names in Bollywood were reluctant to collaborate, but now they were knocking on Amazon Prime’s door.
There have also been logistical challenges: 96% of Indian households have only one TV, which is rarely a smart TV with internet access. But with the second largest number of mobile phone owners in the world and widespread access to cheap mobile data, most of India now watches video by phone. Netflix says its subscribers in India watch more on mobile devices than anywhere else in the world.
Growth has been aided by low subscriptions starting at Rs 129 (£ 1.30) a month for Amazon Prime and Rs 199 a month for Netflix, although with an average monthly household income of Rs 32,800 (£ 328), it remains unaffordable. for millions.
But the threat of future regulation weighs heavily. As government censorship maintains increasingly strict control over the cultural sphere, Amazon and Netflix have become a breeding ground for more courageous and subversive shows like Leila, Sacred games and Paatal Lok, who has addressed sex, sexual violence, homophobia and caste inequalities, criticized right-wing Hindu nationalism and described the persecution of Muslims.
“This kind of programming couldn’t be done in the past,” said Gaurav Gandhi, director and country general manager of Amazon Prime Video India. “The world of streaming allows a new freedom for creators.”
The backlash against certain shows has been visceral, sparking hate campaigns online against stars and creators. Sacred games, the great Netflix series, was threatened with a court case for a line calling former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi done, translated as pussy.
Netflix, Amazon, and 16 other streaming platforms in India have crafted a self-regulatory code that they hope to persuade the government to adopt, rather than being forced to abide by the same censorship rules as Bollywood.
Shibasish Sarkar, CEO of Reliance Entertainment Group, one of India’s largest production companies, whose credits include Sacred gamesHe said: “In three years, the cultural side of India had achieved on broadcast platforms what it would have taken 30 years to achieve in traditional film and television industries.
“The writers and creators have enjoyed [being] free to communicate with the audience [without] restrictions or regulators or censors. A structure of self-regulation and self-discipline is what we should aspire to. Otherwise, we will lose the charm. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism