‘India proudly stands at the epicentre of Fremantle’s growth plans for APAC’

After taking charge in 2017, Fremantle India Television Productions MD Aradhana Bhola has focussed on growing its existing IPs like Indian Idol and Got talent. She is now working towards setting up the company’s scripted business. In an interview with TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto, Bhola spoke about the company’s goals for the market.

Excerpts:

When you took over as the head of Fremantle India in 2017 what goals were set?

To continue to create irresistible entertainment by keeping our legacy formats like Indian Idol & India’s Got Talent relevant and cutting edge as well as forge partnerships in the promising world of the OTT platforms.

What progress has been made in reaching there?

Well, ‘Idols’ is in its 11th season and ‘Got Talent’ has already done 8 so the proof is in the pudding. And season two of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a difference to the world ‘Ted Talks India NayiBaat’ just launched this month with the man who needs no introduction, Shah Rukh Khan. We also collaborated with Amazon Prime India on ‘Hear Me Love Me’ with the warm, vivacious and go-getter Shilpa Shetty playing host. And produced Facebook’s very first original gameshow ‘Confetti’ with funnyman Varun Thakur.

Where does India stand for Fremantle in terms of importance within the Asia Pacific?

India proudly stands at the epicentre of Fremantle’s growth plans for Asia-Pacific. With a billion+ to entertain coupled with the diversity of regions and language, we are in the right place at the right time.

What are the expansion plans?

In terms of expansion plans, we are now working towards setting up our scripted business.

When you speak to broadcasters what do they look for?

This varies from client and client and of course, briefs are often confidential. Suffice it to say that broadly everyone is looking to tell engaging, entertaining and impactful stories.

Talent shows tend to be mainly about singing and dancing. Is there room to go beyond that?

Well, song and dance are part of our DNA so no surprises here. Having said that, we’ve done eight very successful seasons of ‘India’s Got Talent’. The show has been instrumental in launching the careers of many talented though until then unknown or lesser-known people. Be it a kindergarten drummer or a, “I think I’m in my 70s” combination of Shooter Dadis (there’s even a film made on them now!). So there’s definitely room for variety entertainment beyond the confines of genre and age.

‘Indian Idol’ is in its 11th season on Sony. What have you learnt from its success?

It reiterates my faith in two beliefs: Respect the intrinsic gold of a format by resisting any superficial temptations (read adaptations). Well-intended partnerships are at the heart of a success story; Sony’s continued investment in our format is key to Indian Idol’s continued growth.

How has ‘Indian Idol Junior’ helped expand the ‘Idol’ brand?

During its run, Indian Idol Junior helped tap into the country’s singing talent from an early age. In fact, till date some of the kids turn up at our Indian Idol auditions, all grown up to further their musical careers.

When a format has been on for several seasons what tweaks do you make to ensure that audience fatigue does not set in?

The secret sauce lies in the fine balance between honouring the core DNA of the format and experimenting with the peripherals.

How important is it to push the envelope and not get complacent?

It’s not important; it’s critical.

Did ‘Angels Of Rock’ for MTV come about because you felt that there was a lack of female representation?

Shalini (the programming Head of MTV) feels very strongly about female voice and representation in the overall narrative and that was indeed attractive to us too. As a woman, it was an amazing experience to travel from Mumbai to Delhi with an all-female crew capturing the courageous and heartwarming stories of women who are making a difference in their little worlds.

I remember the female firefighters at Jaipur telling me that initially they wouldn’t be assigned any fieldwork despite having worked hard to clear the relevant exams to get the job. Apparently, people were reluctant to have women rescue them in a fire crisis. Once, after a lot of begging, they were assigned a field job and the women just swung into action on getting to the fire site.

After they extinguished the fire, they stayed around spending some time chatting with the affected people. Next time when tragedy struck, the people actually asked for the female firefighters to be sent to their rescue. And that is the power of female efficiency and empathy. That evening as the Angels sang a song composed especially to celebrate these brave women, I remember thinking that we do indeed rock!

How did the partnership with Star India and TED come about for TED Talks?

We saw the opportunity and then Star made it a reality. TED is an impactful initiative and I hand it to Star to bring this bold concept to India. Creating this show results in discovering so much more about our country and puts a spring in our step as we learn for instance that hunger is not about the scarcity of food but rather the lack of a means of distributing it from the haves to the have nots. How comforting and optimistic is that!

Is a daily soap something that you would look at?

For us, it is the stories that we feel compelled to tell that lead the way. The medium is exactly that, a medium.

Do you see regional as whitespace?

Regional programming is actually quite aware of their market needs and demands. We have worked on several award-winning and successful shows for Star Jalsha for instance. In our experience, there was a very healthy exchange and meeting of universal rules of engagement and very specific local adaptations.

Does digital allow for more innovation and experimentation?

Innovation and experimentation is the name of the game irrespective of the medium. Having said that, digital does allow for a wider range of stories given its size and freedom on certain fronts. Who would have thought that dubbed shows from a faraway land would be a hit on our shores for instance? I personally find the gap of telling stories that are more than film and less than daily soap in terms of life span coupled with no compromise on production value very exciting to tap.

Are things to learn from Holland and Israel in this regard?

Why just Holland and Israel? Being a global company with footprints in over 30 territories we have access to learnings, know-how and value add from that large a global family. Since you specifically asked about these two, I’ll share a learning from Israel as ‘Hear Me Love Me’ came from AbotHameiri, our partner company there: it taught us to look at entertainment from the lens of cutting edge technology as one girl virtually dates 3 boys in a single day from the comfort of a couch thanks to inexpensive live shooting made possible by modern age technology.

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