India's M&E industry needs to focus on incredible creative endeavours: Disney+ Hotstar's Gaurav Banerjee

Creativity works in the service of society, he said

MUMBAI: Delivering an address at a session of Ficci Frames Fasttrack 2022 called 'The Magic of Online Curated Content (OCC)', Disney+ Hotstar head content Gaurav Banerjee said that the time is now for India's media and entertainment industry to focus on incredible creative endeavours. 

"We need to do better when it comes to incredible creative endeavours. The time for us to crack the code of creating incredible stories that travel all over the world is now. It is up to all of us to do better, to equip ourselves better. We must note that this is what our potential is. That is when massive success for all of us will follow," Banerjee added.

He gave an example of Korean content. The movie "Parasite" won multiple Oscars including best picture, director and screenplay. Recently, a Korean actor won an Emmy. It was a Korean show on Netflix that got incredible followership all over the world.

He also said that the entertainment industry choosing to do things for profit or a larger social cause is a false choice. "We must do both." 

He gave the example of Satyamev Jayate, a show that Star did. When the show returned, he took the decision not to market other shows. Only this show was marketed. Interestingly, nobody complained. Instead, the fact that the show took a position against female infanticide was greatly appreciated. His company always wanted to be part of a large cause. That was when greater success followed. He added that there were two components in the media and entertainment industry - artists and fans. "They want us to do more and do the right thing." This, he said, had massive business benefits. And even if doing the right thing does not always produce big benefits one must still do it.

In his address, he mentioned the media and entertainment are accountable to society. "Creativity works in the service of society." Disney, he said, believes in this contract. When it has followed the reward has happened. But equally, when it didn't follow there were punishments. In terms of Disney Star's curated content journey, he said it is notable for how women have been treated over the years. 

This was never the case earlier even though cinema had existed for decades. The first phase for him was the early 2000s with the K serials and other shows like Sanjivani. The decision was taken to put women at the centre of storytelling. It was not just about entertaining people. This was a big massive change happening at scale. "The impact was massive and significant." He pointed to a study done by two American scholars from the University of Chicago. They went to homes before they got satellite TV and went back to the same homes three years later after they got exposed to those shows from Star India and other companies. As a result, women's preference for male children fell by 20 per cent. Women's tolerance for abuse decreased by 10 per cent. 8 per cent of girls between the ages of 6-10 went to school. "There was a lot of power in this room. Sometimes, we lost sight of it."

The Chicago study was phase one. This second phase came around 10-11 years later. The broadcaster decided that it was not enough to just put women at the centre. They need to work and become successful professionals. They were backed by their husbands and in-laws. Star did a show. 

On TV, people were told that there is no job that a woman cannot do. However, at that time some things were sacred like marriage. This changed with the third phase in 2020. The show Anupama questioned marriage. The storyline, he noted, was powerful. If a woman was taken for granted, was that worth it? At 45, she could start a new life cheered by India.

When asked a question on TV versus OTT he noted that the creativity paths were similar. All content on Star's TV channel is put first on OTT. So for example new episodes of Anupama come first to Disney+Hotstar at 6 a.m. Creativity answers are the same. A good show is a good show. The same logic applies to movies. But he also acknowledged that distribution channels make a difference in digital because people use mobile content to watch solo. So edgier themes and shorter stories are more convenient. He added that his team watches a lot of content. They watch Youtube, OTT and TV. Often they call creative people like filmmakers about the possibility of working together. The best way to get a yes in terms of working with Disney+Hotstar is if he calls.

The keynote address was delivered by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) joint secretary (P&A) Vikram Sahay. He was in favour of the government keeping itself away from the area. Online content curation must have self-discipline and grow. There is self-certification. He noted that people are taking advantage of the low Internet costs. "Today online, curated content is the big thing in terms of reach, popularity. OTT is here to stay. We have been producing some very good original, value-based content." He added that actors, screenwriters, etc., who were not getting a chance in films now got a space. More people can showcase their talent. He noted that six months back the MIB ministry had developed a mobile game on India's freedom struggle and this was done with Zynga. It is in English and Hindi. There are prizes to incentivise children. For promotion, a 30-second rap song was created. 

"Now the game has been launched globally." While the government around a year and a half back introduced a three-tier system, a grievance mechanism where people can voice their complaints about digital content, he said that this has not inconvenienced any of the OTT platforms. That is because most people are happy when their grievance is heard and they get a response. "We have not heard a single OTT platform complain about the grievance system. Nobody will be inconvenienced or be burdened."

During a panel discussion on being asked how the journey of The Viral Fever (TVF) started, Head- TVF Originals Shreyansh Pandey said, “TVF came into existence because a unique set of audience who were not getting entertained from the television or let's say the shows which were being run at that time - they wanted something fresh, they wanted something new."

The actor Divya Dutta, on being asked how it has been for an actor when OTT is booming, said, “It’s a good time for actors. It is the layer of characters now. You get that time when it comes to a series vis-à-vis a short film or a feature film."

The filmmaker Nikhil Advani talked about the lack of pressure in creating content and the freedom which follows. He said, “On OTT, the shelf life is longer. The word of mouth stays for a longer time. The pressure to get stars the numbers vis-à-vis a story...this is easy when you have OTT.”

The actor Sohum Shah also talked about the reach of OTT and its rising popularity. “Films like Tumbbad have reached more audiences because of OTT. As an actor, it also allows you not to get typecast and work like a chameleon. It is also good, especially for female actors. Talent is flourishing because of OTT,” he added.

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