22 Nov 2017
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Amazon Prime Video ups local content game in India, partners Kabir Khan for series on Netaji’s INA

MUMBAI: Amazon Prime Video, the OTT arm of e-commerce giant Amazon, will heavily focus on local content in India as it seeks to grow its subscribers in the fastest growing economy in the world.

The local team is being expanded, more and more top-end content is being acquired or created and there is intent to make substantial investments in the Indian market.

In fact, India is one of the few markets where Amazon has a regional production hub. Besides the US, Tokyo and London are the other markets where Amazon has production hubs.

“India is an exciting market for us. Our aim is to build a compelling line-up of Indian shows, working with the greatest talents from the industry. India is one of the few markets where Amazon has a regional production hub,” Amazon Prime Video head of global content Roy Price, who was in Mumbai on his third visit to India in a year, said.

In order to take its local production initiatives to the next level, Amazon on Tuesday announced its partnership with Bollywood director and producer Kabir Khan for an Indian original series based on Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA). This will be Amazon’s 18th India original show to go under production.

The war epic will be directed by Khan (‘Ek Tha Tiger’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ and ‘Kabul Express’). Production is scheduled to start by the end of 2017.

‘The Forgotten Army’ (working title) will mark Khan’s debut in the OTT digital video service realm.

“We had made a commitment to our Indian customers to deliver high-quality, binge-worthy shows that they’ll love to watch, and our association with Kabir Khan greatly reinforces our commitment towards this promise. Our association with Khan is one of the many such partnerships that India will see. We know our Prime members are going to love the epic war story being brought to life with Khan helming the project,” said Price.

‘The Forgotten Army’ is a war epic, an Indian Band of Brothers of sorts, which will touch upon several stories, including the contribution of women in the INA.

“While we have American movies and series on our service, it is our local shows and productions that are the most watched in their markets. India has a rich storytelling tradition,” Price noted.

The aim is to tell stories in India that resonate globally. Price is also excited about the response that Amazon’s first German production ‘You Are Wanted’ has received.

Price is on the hunt to find content that has the scope of film along with a story for television. This, he calls, ‘filmvision’.

Price also said that, while theatrical releases are not going away, the digital medium is the future and will be a game changer in the country. Price does not think much of technology like 4k when creating content and that technology is just a tool.

Khan noted that ‘The Forgotten Army’ was a documentary that he made back in 1996. He wanted to make a movie as he felt that there was more to the story than just a documentary, but even after making six other movies that plan did not materialise. He, however, added that now a series on Amazon is the best way to tell the story.

Working with Amazon is liberating as one can tell the story the way it should be told, Khan said. For instance, a Japanese soldier should not speak in Hindi. Due to censorship, film-makers tend to check themselves and corrections are made. With Amazon that is not the case.

‘The Forgotten Army’ is based on true events. The series is about the men and women who fought a heroic war for the independence of India as part of the Indian National Army which was forged out of British defeat in Singapore during WWII and led by the charismatic Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They fought against all odds and paid the ultimate price but they did not succeed… and against the dazzling success of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent movement to free India, they soon became the forgotten army.

“These are super exciting times for any content creator in India and I am elated to make my debut in the digital space with Amazon Prime Video’s India Original. Amazon Prime Video provides greater access to reach new and vast Indian audiences. They are also bringing in global talent and knowledge to collaborate with Indian scriptwriters and content creators to further hone their skills and know-how. I am excited to make this truly international series, which has a scale and reach far greater than any Hindi film,” said Khan.

Progress in India

Price is happy with the progress Prime Video has made in India. What is interesting is that, since Amazon Prime Video launched in India in December, more than half of Amazon Prime’s new members have come due to Prime Video.

While Amazon recently did a deal with American sports league the NFL for streaming of some matches, Price said that there are no plans for sports in India currently. Incidentally, Amazon had picked up the tender document for the Indian Premier League (IPL) media rights. It will be interesting to watch if Amazon makes a serious bid for the digital rights of the IPL.

Regional-language content

While there is no current regional-language project, Price is hopeful that going forward Amazon India will make original content in regional languages like Tamil and Telugu.

When Amazon started creating original content a few years ago, Price and his team had to go out and meet agents, talent managers and talent to explain what the company was planning. “Today we don’t have to market ourselves as much. Now people are aware of the kind of content that they can think of and create when they think about Amazon,” he said.

While Amazon abroad invites ideas and scripts, 99% of content is still made in the traditional manner, which involves meetings with writers, film-makers, etc. However, the process of inviting ideas has resulted in one movie ‘The Wall’ from director Doug Liman.