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A file photo of Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. Photo: Hindustan Times
A file photo of Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar. Photo: Hindustan Times

Top Bollywood stars turn to web originals

  • Top Hollywood stars such as Julia Roberts, Chris Hemsworth, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron and others have already embraced the digital wave by making their OTT debuts

NEW DELHI : After turning up their noses at the small screen and web shows, Bollywood stars are finally reconciling to the growing popularity of the latter. Top stars like Ajay Devgn, Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Kapoor are now ready to make their digital debuts with web originals for video streaming services like Disney+ Hotstar and Netflix. Akshay Kumar, menawhile, has already confirmed an action show titled The End for Amazon Prime Video earlier.

According to reports by web portal LetsOTTGlobal, Devgn may reprise the role of Idris Elba in the remake of British television series Luther for Disney+ Hotstar which would see the actor play a brilliant murder detective. Meanwhile, Disney is also in talks with Roshan for a remake of Tom Hiddleston’s crime drama The Night Manager as is Kapoor with Netflix for an action thriller based on the 1988 Operation Cactus where the Indian Air Force had prevented a mercenary invasion in the Maldives.

Netflix declined to comment on Mint’s queries for the story while Disney+ Hotstar did not respond.

Top Hollywood stars such as Julia Roberts, Chris Hemsworth, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron and others have already embraced the digital wave by making their OTT debuts with shows like Homecoming, Extraction, Hunters and The Old Guard respectively. But their Indian counterparts have long seen the web as a medium meant for those out of work or for risky projects that would never draw audiences to theatres. Their reluctance to take films meant for theatrical release directly to streaming platforms during the covid-19 pandemic has also been evident.

Without doubt, things have changed over the past few months.

“The viewership of several streaming platforms is now inching towards a few million subscribers in India and has made it easy for them to make the kind of investment these stars look at. The production budget is linked to user growth," Raghav Anand, segment leader, digital media at EY said. A top-grade web show in India can now look at budgets of 60-80 crore, Anand said, on par with what is usually spent on feature films with compensation for A-list male stars falling around 15 crore.

Moreover, the four to five million subscribers that platforms have added to the overall OTT ecosystem over the past few months has given them scale and made sure that stars look at them as avenues that will only help their brand image, not dilute it.

Soumak Banik, chief growth officer at MediaCom, a GroupM-owned media agency said Bollywood is getting used to exploring multiple genres of storytelling, including long and short formats. The earliest web shows in India were produced by companies like Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment (Inside Edge for Amazon). The gamut has gradually widened to include many more directors and producers like Karan Johar and Anushka Sharma, all of whom have dished out multiple digital offerings lately.

“This (the foray made by top stars to digital platforms) stems from their desire to stay relevant and connected with the youth and be part of disruptive stories," said Vikram Malhotra, CEO, Abundantia Entertainment that is developing Kumar’s show for Amazon. The opportunity to reach out to a younger audience base and go global at the same time, is an attractive combination, Malhotra added though it wasn’t always so.

“The web was seen as a step down earlier. But there has been a sea change in the past few years and it has reached a point where despite being unchartered territory, it is seen as premium and prestigious," Malhotra added.

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