Netflix will be premiering 17 titles over the next few months, including Anurag Basu’s comedy Ludo, Gitanjali Rao’s animated film Bombay Rose, Atul Sabharwal’s police drama Class of ’83, and the Sanjay Dutt-starrer Torbaaz. Also arriving on the streaming platform will be the web series A Suitable Boy, directed by Mira Nair and based on the Vikram Seth novel of the same name, and Mismatched, adapted from Sandhya Menon’s novel When Dimple met Rishi.

This “very fun and exciting line-up” is “very diverse in terms of genres and formats”, Monika Shergill, Vice-President Content, Netflix India, said in an interview. “From a Netflix perspective, it’s a watchfest that we want to create over the next few weeks and months.” The premiere dates haven’t been announced yet.

The lockdown forced by the novel coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in programming across streaming platforms, which include Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5 and SonyLIV.

Amazon Prime Video has acquired films across languages, including the June releases Gulabo Sitabo and the upcoming Shakuntala Devi, Law and French Biryani. Disney+Hostar will release seven movies between July and October, including Sushant Singh Rajput’s final production Dil Bechara, the Akshay Kumar-starrer Laxmmi Bomb, Ajay Devgn’s Bhuj: The Pride of India and the Sadak sequel.

Netflix will premiere 12 movies, many of which would have been released in cinemas if they had not been shuttered because of the pandemic. These include the previously announced Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, the biopic of the Indian Air Force pilot that stars Janhvi Kapoor. The movie will be released on August 12.

Bombay Rose, Gitanjali Rao’s first feature, was premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2019. The animated movie is set in Mumbai and explores the interlinked stories of a pair of flower sellers and a former background dancer in Hindi films.

Bombay Rose.

Anurag Basu’s Ludo is an anthology comedy with an ensemble cast that includes Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra, Pankaj Tripathi, Abhishek Bachchan, Fatima Sana Shaikh and Aditya Roy Kapur. Girish Malick’s Torbaaz stars Sanjay Dutt and is about child suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

Also opting for a direct streaming release are Renuka Shahane’s family drama Tribhanga: Tedhi Meri Crazy, starring Kajol, Tanvi Azmi and Mithila Palkar. Terri Samundra’s horror film Kaali Khuhi has Shabana Azmi, Satyadeep Mishra and Riva Arora in the cast.

Sudhir Mishra’s adaptation of the Manu Joseph novel Serious Men features the actors Nasser, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shweta Basu Prasad. Alankrita Shrivastava’s satire Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare includes characters played by Konkana Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar.

In Vikramaditya Motwane’s dark comedy AK Vs AK, starring Anurag Kashyap and Anil Kapoor, a director kidnaps a movie star’s daughter – and then films the whole thing. Atul Sabharwal’s Class of ‘83 is based on S Hussain’s Zaidi’s non-fiction book The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police. The book profiles members of the 1983 batch of graduates from the Police Training School in Nashik who went on to become “encounter specialists” with the Mumbai police. Bobby Deol, Bhupendra Jadawat, Hitesh Malukani and Anoop Soni are in the cast.

Casting director and producer Honey Trehan’s directorial debut Raat Akeli Hai is a crime thriller starring Radhika Apte and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Puneet Khanna’s romantic comedy Ginny Weds Sunny cis led by Vikrant Massey and Yami Gautam.

Monika Shergill. Courtesy Netflix.

“Netflix’s vision has always been to bring the best stories out in the country,” Monika Shergill said. “Our vision and focus are very clear – to partner with the best storytellers in the country and to be able to tell the best stories we should be telling in India.”

Among the series is the BBC production A Suitable Boy, which will be shown in India after its premiere in the United Kingdom. The long-awaited screen version of Vikram Seth’s acclaimed novel stars Tabu, Ishaan Khatter, Namit Das and newcomer Tanya Maniktala. A Hindi-language option will be available alongside the original English version.

Masaba Masba is a reality series revolving around the mother-daughter pair Neena Gupta and Masaba Gupta. Bombay Begums, created by Alankrita Shrivastava, examines five generations of women. The cast includes featuring Amruta Subhash, Aadhya Anand, Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami Plabita Borthakur and Ira Dubey. In Bhaag Beanie Bhaag, Swara Bhasker plays a woman in her twenties juggling work, family and love.

A Suitable Boy (2020).

The films and shows have all been in development for the past several months, Shergill said. The spread hopes to cater to all kinds of audience tastes. “We are really about multiple titles and multiple moods on any given day,” Shergill said. While all the movies and shows are in Hindi, Shergill said that Netflix was looking to commission productions in non-Hindi languages too.

Like most of the other streamers, Netflix doesn’t share viewership data. While the bulk of Netflix audiences do tend to be concentrated in Indian metropolises, Shergill claimed that many more people were tuning in from a wider pool of cities and towns too.

Just because a series is set in a particular region – such as the acclaimed series Jamtara, which played out in Jharkhand, or the movie Chaman Bahaar, which was located in a central Indian city – doesn’t mean that viewership will surge in these parts, Shergill said. “There isn’t any direct co-relation,” said Shergill, who joined Netflix in 2019. “The story is based somewhere because it is authentic and real to do the story in that kind of milieu. But the stories are also meant to be universal.”

Some of Netflix’s recent releases have drawn mixed or downright negative responses, such as Hasmukh, Chaman Bahaar, Betaal, Mrs. Serial Killer, Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai and Bulbbul.

“I feel that as a service, your Netflix is different from my Netflix,” Shergill said. “Every person comes on Netflix and finds the title they want to watch. It’s never just about that one title. There will be some titles that won’t appeal to certain people. The biggest truth is that the consumers will find what they are looking for.”

The streaming platform has also emerged as a favourite target of online trolls. The perception that Netflix and its rivals are taking advantage of freedom from censorship to push out films and series deemed as explicit, overtly profane or politically loaded has reached the upper levels of government.

In 2019, the independent industry body Internet and Mobile Association drafted a code of self-regulation for streamers that included guidelines against disrespecting national symbols such as the flag and promoting violence against the Indian state. In March, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar met representatives of the leading streaming platforms and reportedly gave them a hundred days to come up with their own code of conduct if they wanted to avoid being brought under the Central Board of Film Certification.

Towards this end, the ministry and the Internet and Mobile Association have also set up a Digital Content Complaint Committee.

“We are working with a lot of industry peers and with the government to ensure that we maintain the freedom of choice for the consumer,” Shergill said. “We also ensure that we have very clear guidelines on our content. We are working on maintaining a balance between choice and artistic freedom.”

Pankaj Tripathi and Janhvi Kapoor in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020). Courtesy Dharma Productions/Netflix.

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Gitanjali Rao’s animated film ‘Bombay Rose’ is headed to the Venice Film Festival – here’s why

Self-regulation: Streaming services are not the problem, so why are they trying to be a solution?