It is never easy to say 'no' to a specific project, says Netflix India's Srishti Behl Arya

Srishti Behl Arya, Director International Originals, Netflix India leads the films division, and admits she has her hands full with the increasing number of direct-to-digital releases.

Devansh Sharma August 26, 2020 08:14:25 IST
It is never easy to say 'no' to a specific project, says Netflix India's Srishti Behl Arya

Two years ago, Anand Tiwari's debut feature Love Per Square Foot premiered directly on Netflix India, making it the first Indian film to release on a digital platform. Since then, Netflix has churned out several Indian movies, besides the cutting-edge Original shows it is known for, leading up to a time when several big-budget films have taken to the direct-to-digital route in the absence of operational theatres courtesy the coronavirus outbreak.

Srishti Behl Arya, Director, International Original Films, Netflix India admits she has a busy time at work since both the supply and demand for movies at home is at an all-time high. While the cherry-picking comes with its fair share of challenges, her experience as a producer at Rose Audio Visuals Pvt Ltd offers strong support. The influence from late father and veteran producer Ramesh Behl and filmmaker-brother Goldie Behl also comes in handy while choosing the story she wants to position.

In an exclusive interview, Arya discusses the prospects of the digital platform when more creators and audiences are warming up to home entertainment, how Netflix serves as a melting point for storytellers and talent from both inside and outside the film industry, and whether she considers other streaming services as competitors or hunting grounds for fresh talent.

Since you have been a third-generation storyteller, what is the one specific grain of convention wisdom that helps you seek the right stories for Netflix India? And what have been the factors that are key to scouting for good stories in the mainstream Hindi film industry, but may not apply similarly to Netflix?

 I grew up as a fan of great stories and entertainment. If you choose the right story, do your best to support your creative partners and try to stay out of the way, they will do amazing things. For me, the north star is to think like a fan, which helps me look at the story and consider if this is something I have seen before or what is it about these characters that I love. When we have creators who are passionate, have a vision, and can execute it, we can bring more stories to our members around the world. India has a deeply rich culture of storytelling. We want to be the home for storytellers and enable them to do the best work of their lives with us. Today, in this golden age of entertainment, there are tremendous possibilities for high-quality films and series and untold stories that reflect more aspects of our lives. We are thrilled to work with seasoned creators whose storytelling you may already love, and also introduce you to new creators with unique perspectives who may grow to become your new favourites.

Has there been any instance when you were pitched a film script but you suggested it would flesh out better as an Original series or vice-versa?

The beauty of Netflix is that the sole focus is on authentic storytelling and passionate creative partners who want to bring their vision to life. What we like to do is be the best partners to our creators and help them tell their story in the best possible way, and do what is right for the story without the confines of any set  format, time-limit or genre. There are instances around the world where a story pitched as a film works better as a series and vice-versa.

Now that Netflix is also home to films bypassing theatrical release because of coronavirus lockdown, do you believe that is opening the otherwise hesitant creators to the idea of an alternative platform?

Over the past two years, we have launched over 22 Netflix films in India, including 10 films in 2020. These Original films are from seasoned filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhtar to emerging creators like Anvita Dutt and Neeraj Udhwani. What we care about the most is to help each and every creator do their best work with us and bring their finest ideas to life in authentic ways so people in India and around the world can discover their stories. The creators that we have partnered with thus far have all believed in that vision, and we hope to work with even more emerging as well as established creators across geographies and styles to keep our audiences entertained with a variety of stories.

How important is it for Netflix India to become eligible for the film awards here?

We would love for the amazing work our creators do to be recognised by both our members and critics. In 2019, we saw three International Emmy nominations for the Netflix film Lust Stories (for Best TV Movie/Mini-Series and Best Performance by an Actress) and the Netflix Original series Sacred Games (for Best Drama Series), which was a big moment for us, and we hope to continue creating such stories.

It is never easy to say no to a specific project says Netflix Indias Srishti Behl Arya

Radhika Apte in a still from Lust Stories

Netflix also dabbled into regional film production with Marathi films 15 August and Firebrand. Can you share a specific plan about the long-term prospects of that area given the regional diversity of India?

We are steadily growing our non-Hindi local language content catalogue through licensing, and the idea is to gradually do the same with our original content as well. Our members have access to local content in several languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Sikkimese, Urdu, and Punjabi. They have a curated library of some of the most diverse non-Hindi local language films to choose from on Netflix, and it is important for us to reach out to every kind of audience member possible, so more regional films are definitely on the cards.

 Since you grew up in a film family, and Netflix has often been hailed for its inclusivity of talent, how do you think the streaming platform serves as the meeting point of established stars/industry insiders and budding storytellers/outsiders?

Streaming services like Netflix are free from the constraints of time, form, and budget, and reach diverse audiences across the world, united in their love for great entertainment, which provides great opportunities for talented artists and storytellers. At Netflix, we are committed to working with the best talent across the board, be it seasoned actors or first-time directors. We want to work with everyone who is passionate about telling stories. Overall this year, we are working with eight first-time directors across films and series, including Neeraj Undhwani (Maska), Sharan Sharma (Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl), Pushpendra Mishra (Taj Mahal 1989), Anvita Dutt (Bulbbul), Honey Trehan (Raat Akeli Hai). Additionally, our series Jamtara: Sabka Number Aayega had a whole new cast and our film Class of ‘83, that released this weekend, has four new actors. Also, more than half of our Netflix films launched in India have women as lead characters.

It is never easy to say no to a specific project says Netflix Indias Srishti Behl Arya

A still from Class of '83

How difficult is it to say no to a pitch/proposal by someone you know from before? 

Every creator has a vision for their own story and it is never easy to say, no to a specific project.

Do you also scan other streaming services for storytellers or talent that you may be keen to collaborate with?

Entertainment, at its very core thrives on the discovery of newer stories. When you are fueled by entertainment and the urge to bring authentic stories to audiences, you find yourself appreciating all storytellers, technicians, and talent across formats and mediums, who are able to surprise and delight audiences with their craft. Appreciating and encouraging good stories and talent is the bedrock of a thriving entertainment industry.

All images from Netflix.

(Also read: Netflix India is dialing up the diversity with its new 2020 slate, says Monika Shergill, VP-Content)

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