(L to R) Aparna Purohit; Salman Khan and Sahher Bambba
The biggest stars have decided to work in OTT series, says Amazon’s Head of India Originals Aparna Purohit. “We’ve definitely crossed the Rubicon,” she adds. Amazon Prime Video itself will soon be airing shows with Juhi Chawla, Shahid Kapoor and Akshay Kumar. Saif Ali Khan was the first big movie star to experiment with Netflix’s Sacred Games (2018). Stars such as Madhuri Dixit, Raveena Tandon and Emraan Hashmi have also gravitated towards the streaming service. Ajay Devgn is acting in the official remake of Luther (2010) for Disney+Hotstar, and now it turns out Shah Rukh Khan is considering a web series on that service too. Purohit thinks the paradigm shift occurred with the pandemic, where audience engagement with stars became deeper and more intense. Movies are still the gold standard and when Shershaah releases across 4,400 cities in 200 countries, it brings a whole new audience to Indian cinema. “Everyone is looking for meaty parts, to sink their teeth in,” says Purohit. And no one minds the marketing muscle these networks bring, in building stars and promoting storylines, making the shows part of the cultural landscape.
Younger Stars Sparkle
OTT has also allowed younger stars to sparkle. Take Sahher Bambba, who was the last to be cast as Babur’s wife in The Empire. The actress waited two years for her movie Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (2019) to be released. In any other day and age, making one’s debut opposite a third-generation star, Dharmendra’s grandson, Karan Deol, would have made her career. But with the film being delayed, Sahher, who went to Lawrence School, Sanawar, and briefly to Jai Hind College, Mumbai, decided to remake her plans. After The Empire, she will be seen in the Disney+Hotstar adaptation of Those Pricey Thakur Girls, directed by Habib Faisal and Tarun Mansukhani. Sahher is the daughter of a Shimla hotelier and restaurateur and understands she is at a disadvantage when it comes to advice on her career choices, attending events, or even doing shoot, as well as the commercials involved. “Children from the industry already have an inbuilt fan base,” she says. And then with even a little success comes the bigger problem: in the beginning, filmmakers choose you and then you choose them. But from the restrictions of playing either the heroine or the heroine’s sister, a young woman entering the film industry has many more choices now.
After developing a taste for fictionalised real life, it was only a matter of time before Indians developed a taste for documentaries. Or, at least OTT platforms hope so. Shortly after the wild success of Wild Wild Country (2018), there has been a string of attempts to expand the genre, from Bad Boy Billionaires (2020) to Searching for Sheela (2021). Now, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and husband Nitesh Tiwari have directed Break Point for Zee5, a seven-part docu-drama about the fraught relationship between tennis aces Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. Netflix is airing two documentaries: Crime Stories: India Detectives, which focuses on criminal investigations by the Bengaluru city police; and House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths, a three-part docu-series that examines the deaths of 11 members of a seemingly happy family in Delhi. For a long time, Indian TV has thrived on sensationalising crimes, from the deaths of Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj to the murder of Sheena Bora. Now, it is to be seen whether audiences have the stomach for true blood.
Did You Know?
At the beginning of their careers, Salman Khan and Rajiv Bhatia (aka Akshay Kumar) were once competing for the same role—that of a young Indian man in Claudio Biondi’s Italian mini-series The Mysteries of the Dark Jungle (1991). Neither made it through the screen test for which the casting director was anchor and actor Dolly Thakore. Rajiv couldn’t make it to the airport on time (the audition was in Delhi) and Salman didn’t clear the test—while also managing to delay the flight by forgetting Thakore’s vanity case in the departure lounge. The role finally went to a young Englishman, and the lead role to Kabir Bedi. Salman returned to sign a film with Sooraj Barjatya and Rajiv became Akshay Kumar. Much better, writes Thakore in her book, Regrets, None, than playing a cursory brown man.