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OTT platforms signal demise of formulaic storytelling: Pratiksha Rao of Netflix

The democratisation of the content space triggered by the arrival of OTT platforms has led to a shift to compelling stories, away from the old practice of formulaic storytelling, leading to a new kind of engagement between the audience and the subject.

Making this point, Pratiksha Rao, Director, Films and Licensing, Netflix, said the future of entertainment will be defined by brave choices in storytelling. Nowhere was this more in evidence than at the 94th Academy Awards, where the Oscar for Best Picture went to a film with an unusual plot and lead actors who are deaf (‘CODA’). And Jane Campion went home with the Oscar for Best Director for ‘The Power of the Dog’, which, again, inverted the entire idea of a macho, action-packed ‘Western’.

Both films, coming from streaming platforms (‘CODA’ is streaming on Apple TV+ and ‘The Power of the Dog’ on Netflix), have bolstered the new reality of global entertainment: theatrical releases are now up against the streamers in the competition for audience eyeballs around the world.

In a conversation with IANS, Rao said: “Streaming services have been a great addition to the Indian entertainment industry making this an incredible time to be a creator and consumer of great stories. Streamers have always partnered with the film industry, through original and licensed content, and have provided an additional avenue for the exhibition of films. They have emerged as a pillar of strength for the industry, especially at the time of a global pandemic.”

Rao said the diversity of content has led to a dismantling of the archaic tropes of formula-based storytelling. “There is not one kind of film that is successful anymore,” she noted. “Filmmakers don’t have to lean only into romance just because that’s what the audience loves, or exclusively make action films because they think the market has moved in that direction.”

She added: “We understand that not everything will appeal to everyone, which is why we invest in a variety of stories, from thrillers to romance, so that you always have something you’ll love on Netflix.”

The key to successful original content is the authenticity of its story. Irrespective of the boundaries of geography, language and culture, a good story with authentic characters triggers a wave of human emotions that eventually assumes the form of a chain reaction connecting with people on a cerebral level.

Rao said: “All the best stories in the world are authentic to their local context and origins of their characters, yet evoke universal emotions, and that is why they are loved around the world. Our films, such as ‘Minnal Murali’, the first Malayalam superhero film, featured in the Top 10 in 30 countries. And our subscribers also watched ‘The Adam Project’ dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.”

Explaining how the Netflix algorithm works, Rao said: “Netflix and its recommendations enable these stories to find audiences who might enjoy them in more than 190 countries with high-quality subtitles and dubs. So filmmakers have an unprecedented opportunity to tell their most authentic stories, in the language and format of their choice, and get them seen by audiences they’d never been able to reach before.”

But how would streaming services influence the regional content industries of the country? Will there be a cross-pollination of stories from different regional industries leading to blurring of lines among them?

Pratiksha said: “With streamers such as Netflix, it’s great to see film industries finding synergies. It is now increasingly possible for talent, both on-screen and off-screen, to collaborate across the world, bringing unprecedented opportunities to the creative communities.”

She continued: “Rana Daggubati will be soon seen in Netflix’s series ‘Rana Naidu’. Dhanush will star in ‘The Gray Man’ and Alia Bhatt is a part of Netflix’s ‘Heart of Stone’. Just some time back, Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao and Adarsh Gaurav gave stunning performances in ‘The White Tiger’. These are just a few examples and the stage is set for one cinema to truly rise.”

The rise of OTT platforms somewhat mirrors the growth of television in India, both coming as a breath of fresh air for content creators in their early stages of development. The television industry, however, succumbed to the pressures of TRPs with the dawn of the new millennium, resulting in the slow death of ground-breaking content.

Can OTT platforms resist the pressure of numbers and audience engagement targets?

Speaking for Netflix, Rao told IANS: “We just want to do one thing — entertain our members. All that we like to do is bring a diverse collection of stories that can range from intriguing to challenging, across genres, formats and languages, so that our members can discover stories they love.”

She added: “Irrespective of where our members live and what language they speak, we want them to experience a spectrum of emotions when they watch stories on Netflix — from love, anger and joy to sadness and revenge, depending on their mood. Every night is a premiere night on Netflix.”

With OTT platforms, the way movies are exhibited has changed forever and this promises a new wave of advancement both on the technological and the storytelling front. “Unlike an opening night at a theatre or a limited airing on TV, stories on Netflix can be discovered from when they premiere to whenever new consumers join the service and find the stories that appeal to them,” Rao added.

Winding down by looking at the race for new talent, Rao said that OTT platforms have resulted in a greater influx of fresh talent into the industry.

“Telling the most entertaining, locally authentic and diverse stories from India is not possible without giving a platform to new talent, fresh voices and untold stories. This opportunity is true for talent both in front of and behind the camera,” she said.

And she concluded by saying: “From new acting talent such as Tripti Dimri in ‘Bulbbul’, new directors, producers and writers like Anvita Dutt, to talent that finds unconditional love from audiences and shines bright with our stories, such as Tovino Thomas in ‘Minnal Murali’, Rohit Saraf in ‘Mismatched’ and Radhika Madan in ‘Feels Like Ishq’. We are thrilled Netflix can be the home for a new generation of stars and storytellers from every corner of the country.”

By Akshay Acharya

CELEBRITY GALLERY

Hina Khan

Nazriya Nazim

Kiara Advani

Asim Riaz

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