Sacred Games season 2 stakes seem higher as Netflix invests heavily in India with Mowgli, Narcos: Mexico

With Narcos: Mexico, Mowgli, Sacred Games 2, Midnight's Children and the like, Netflix seems to be expanding its content base and market in India.

Shreya Paul December 06, 2018 15:47:58 IST
Sacred Games season 2 stakes seem higher as Netflix invests heavily in India with Mowgli, Narcos: Mexico

Netflix may well be responsible for how Indians consume content now. At a hackneyed juncture of mind-numbing (mostly, as this is not a generalisation) television serials, came in the streaming service, immediately attracting audiences to its varied, international and original shows. Narcos, the then-favourite, was one show that most viewers were eagerly waiting for. At first glance, it might seem odd — how would a detailed (albeit gripping) narrative of the underbelly of Colombia be in anyway attractive to an Indian audience? If anything, Netflix has gradually come to embody this fluidity of content by 2018, a fact backed by the chief content officer of the streaming platform, Ted Sarandos at the Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival.

Sacred Games season 2 stakes seem higher as Netflix invests heavily in India with Mowgli Narcos Mexico

Netflix COO Ted Sarandos at the Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival. YouTube screengrab

A few years from its launch, it was only justified that Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games grew to be such a phenomenon via Netflix's quality treatment. The show trailed the mafia culture of Mumbai (then, called Bombay) in the early '90s through a compelling cat-and-mouse thriller between a dead gangster (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and a troubled-yet-idealistic policeman (Saif Ali Khan). While expletives, gore, sex among other things were generously imbued within the narrative, the story was upheld through on-point acting and production design. Critics lauded the 'international standards' of the show which came in perfect juxtaposition with a localised narrative. As viewers got the best of both worlds, viewership of the content provider soared high.

Sacred Games season 2 stakes seem higher as Netflix invests heavily in India with Mowgli Narcos Mexico

Saif Ali Khan in a still from Sacred Games. All photographs courtesy of Netflix

With its second season, the Sacred Games creators reportedly took the shoot international. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, along with director Anurag Kashyap, have been shooting in Nairobi, Kenya for a 50-day schedule. Makeshift sets of Mumbai are scheduled to be set up for capturing few key sequences. Though the script demanded the international locale, the fact that Netflix was confident of the investments is what is interesting. Not that people never heard of meticulous outdoor shoots for web series, but to have one of Indian foundations, being backed by an American media services provider was refreshing.

The provider stressed on its need to tap into local stories with a global appeal, something Erik Barmack, vice-president of global content at Netflix, saw in Sacred Games. The complexities and inter-play of crime, religion and media have been a prevalent area of concern all across the world. This automatically draws in not only Indian, but a global audience. The show was dubbed in four languages and released in 190 countries.

Netflix's next big bet seemed to be on its original feature Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle. Deriving from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, the film was launched with considerably positive reviews. Director Andy Serkis' deep, dark treatment was praised across the board. Creativity aside, the finance behind the film was anything but small, or even medium. Big names in western film industry such as Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale among others were associated with the project. Netflix decided to hold the world premiere of the film in Mumbai. Serkis was accompanied by Christian Bale, Freida Pinto, Louis Ashbourne Serkis and Rohan Chand (who plays the titular character) for the premiere. Audiences rejoiced at the apt choice of premiere location for the film based on India's most celebrated jungle epic.

Sacred Games season 2 stakes seem higher as Netflix invests heavily in India with Mowgli Narcos Mexico

Andy Serkis and Anil Kapoor at a press conference ahead of the world premiere of Mowgli. Twitter@AnilKapoor

The Hindi version of Mowgli has leading actors come in as part of the voice-cast. Noted names in Bollywood like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan were roped in to play characters. Hence, the streaming service seemed to be going all out in terms of investment in the Indian market.

A similar phenomenon occurred when Netflix flew down talent, including actors Michael Pena and Diego Luna, and showrunner Eric Newman, for the promotion of Narcos: Mexico in Mumbai. Capitalising on the country's loyal viewership of the original series, the content provider left no stone unturned while promoting its spin-off at the Indian market. Especially with the success of Sacred Games, it was seemingly obvious that the country and its audience were inclined towards crime thrillers. At the party held for Pena, Luna and Newman in Mumbai, they interacted with leading filmmakers of the Hindi film industry, which included names like Zoya Akhtar, Vishal Bhardwaj and Siddharth Roy Kapur among others as well as a few members of the Sacred Games team.

Soon enough, Bhardwaj was declared as the showrunner for Netflix's adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, another quintessentially 'Indian' tale of the country's transition from British colonialism to an independent nation with a marginal post-colonial hangover. Rushdie's nuanced treatment in the book won the writer global appeal and the work, critical and commercial acclaim. The work boasts of esteemed accolades such as the 1981 Booker Prize, Best of Booker in both 1981 and 2008, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Such a local script per se, in collaboration with Bhardwaj's rustic cinematic sensitivities makes for a heady combination in terms of content viewing.

As Sarandos recently said, it was best to get rid of conventional ideas of consumption patterns and delve into good storytelling, an ethos which Netflix seems to be adapting fast, especially in India.

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