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A growing number of mainstream Bollywood actors are making their digital debuts, with celebs known for mass-market movies taking up offers to act in original web series.

Shahid Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur and Kareena Kapoor Khan have already signed on projects, and there’s a buzz that Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra will also make web forays.

Studio executives and media experts said actors are lured by fat fees on a par with feature films for big stars, and meaty roles they are unlikely to come by in non-web films.

In the coming months, Anushka Sharma and Kareena Kapoor Khan will make their streaming debut with Netflix originals. In 2021, 22 actors and 20 directors made their streaming debut on the service, including Kartik Aaryan, whose thriller, Dhamaka, featured in the global top 10 list for non-English films on Netflix.

A Netflix spokesperson said the platform brings diverse stories featuring seasoned as well as new talent. “Our recent series, The Fame Game, featured Madhuri Dixit, who enthralled fans with her incredible performance, along with new acting talent Gagan Arora, who received unconditional love from audiences," the person said.

With Hindi films being challenged by Hollywood and regional language films for their share of the box office, it is natural for stars to explore alternatives where they can find audience appreciation, Gautam Jain, partner at media consulting firm Ormax said.

“OTT platforms give a huge worldwide reach to the show or a film and therefore to the cast starring in it, which is a big driver for film stars to say yes to opportunities in streaming."

Platforms with aggressive growth plans like to cast film stars to help in building a subscriber base and ensure marketability of content, Jain said.

A series is primarily a writer-driven medium, which fits in with platforms that are becoming progressive, competitive and experimental with films and television series, making it an attractive field for any talent, said Sunder Aaron, co-founder and principal, Locomotive Global Inc., a production house working on web originals.

“Mainstream stars are now also seeing their counterparts in Hollywood appearing in OTT projects. Streamers give actors, filmmakers and writers an immediate global platform. With the success of series like Money Heist and Squid Game, and films like Roma, Don’t Look Up and The Irishman, talent can see that working with OTT can lead to great exposure of their work," Aaron said.

Netflix and Apple TV+ originals dominated this year’s Oscar nominations. Amazon Prime Video declined to comment to Mint’s queries on upcoming originals featuring film stars while Disney+ Hotstar did not respond. Queries sent to Varun Dhawan’s team did not elicit a response while Sidharth Malhotra’s team declined to comment.

Karan Taurani, research analyst at Elara Capital Ltd, said most big stars are looking at making a debut with global OTT giants who can afford their fee and a production budget that ensures scale for the show.

“Their remuneration would be the same, given that shooting for a six to eight-episode show is similar to shooting for a full-length film and they will definitely not commit without a hefty fee. Plus, while the overseas market is still growing for Indian films, these platforms ensure global reach and an uptick to overall brand value," Taurani said.

“There is a realization that the theatre business, especially for Hindi films, is extremely risky. Stars who are not top of the box office game, don’t come across very fulfilling roles and crave to connect with fans," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films.

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