Aashish Singh, Director - Original Films at Netflix, talks to Titas Chowdhury about the process of choosing films for the platform, the collaboration with Ajay Devgn Ffilms, and future plans at Netflix
You had a long association with Yash Raj Films before your stint with Netflix. What made this change, of course, the right one for you?
I had been on the studio side, seen that for 15 years with YRF. Dealt with big films, medium films, small films, understood the business side of it and all of that. But this is the next wave, Netflix, an OTT platform. It is such a wonderful company. Everything that Netflix is doing, there is so much to learn as an individual. After some time you reach a saturation point in your head where you are feeling ‘Where do you go next? Where do you learn next? What’s your next challenge?’ But in a place like Netflix, you are learning every day.
You must be coming across several scripts every day. What is your process of green lighting scripts?
We are very script-driven. For us, the script is very important. We initially go through the synopsis. If that is exciting, we call for the story and the script and based on that we make our decision. After that it is all about packaging it correctly, getting the right director and all of that. But it is mainly driven by the script.
When we spoke to Srishti Arya (Director for International Original Film – India, Netflix) earlier, she said that one of the biggest advantages of this platform is that it is not star-driven. What is your take on that?
We have no pressure of box office and that is the way I would put it. So we can create any content across any genre with no formula to follow. It, therefore, works in our favour to tell any story that is compelling and engaging. It is also incredible for our subscribers in India as well as globally.
How important is consumer consumption patterns? And have you seen any specific trends?
It is pretty important at Netflix. We do have a team for consumer insights that keeps briefing us about it. But more than that it is about what our subscriber base looks like and where it is heading in the next couple of years. So that is a very good input for us to plan our strategy for the kind of films that we are green lighting and how are we balancing our portfolio of films and genres.
In Netflix, after the mobile plan that we launched, there is a new kind of subscriber that we have. We are definitely very conscious of that. If we are programming for two years down the line, it is very important to know what our subscriber base is going to look like, the regions and cities we are going to be more in. So it is important to plan it that way. Finally it is about giving satisfaction to our consumers, to know who are they and where they come from and of course increasing the base as well. It is a combination of both but first, it is about consumer joy and expanding the same.
Talking about trends, are any specific genres that work on the platform?
You are from Box Office India and you know that everything is working. There is no set formula to say that only this is working. That is what we are going for. Any story that is compelling we are not holding back saying that we will do only thrillers or horror or anything that typically works on the platform. We are very open to any story and any idea.
You are collaborating with Ajay Devgn Ffilms for the movie Tribhanga. What can you tell us about this association?
We are super excited about collaborating with Ajay Devgn. He is such a knowledgeable actor. He has been working across diverse genres. He has been super successful despite having no godfather so to say. This means he has the pulse on what the audience likes. And most of his films are driven by entertainment and that is the plus of associating with somebody like him. We are looking at diverse films coming out of the ADF banner for us. And there is so much talent in the house. We are working with Kajol and we hope to bring him on the platform as well. There is so much to do with him.
You have already collaborated with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment for three projects. Are there more such plans?
Three projects are in media knowledge. It is project to project actually and it is same with every other collaboration. If you want to know whether we are collaborating with stars and big production houses, then the answer is, yes we are looking at collaborating with the best filmmakers of the country without a doubt because they bring a lot to the table. At the same time we are working with independent filmmakers, people with new ideas, new directors, new actors, new technicians because at Netflix we definitely want to have a balance of both. Finally, it is about that compelling story and an engaging film that we can deliver to our consumers.
Do you think this space is giving stiff competition to theatrical release of films?
We all exist in the same ecosystem. At Netflix, we don’t see anything as conflict or competition. We all have to co-exist. In the same ecosystem, we are licensing films and there are some great films on our platform. In a way, we are involved with the industry and at the same time we are creating content that we want the subscribers to sit at home and watch. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t go to the theatres. It is about them wanting to watch content and that should be the push. Let us keep them engaged there rather than having them spend time somewhere else. Let them be more involved with the content. It is about co-existing together and we don’t have to be a threat to the exhibition side or any threat to the industry.
What does the road ahead look like?
The plan is obviously to build on the current slate that we have. We have a lot of films releasing next year. Currently, we are planning for the 2020-21 slate and beyond that. So we want to make content that is more engaging, get some bigger filmmakers in the fray, and if at all get some actors in the fray. But finally, it is about delivering the best content to the consumer. And we definitely want to scale up the content we are creating; both on the films and the series side so that our consumers are happy and stick around and add many more subscribers.