Amazon.com is banking on top Bollywood directors to do something they have never done before - create television shows.
The online retail giant said it had signed on some of the biggest names in the Indian film industry - Zoya Akhtar, Vikramaditya Motwane and Ram Madhvani - to come up with original series for Amazon's video-streaming service Prime Video, launched globally on Wednesday.
Amazon’s push to capture the online entertainment market in India includes 18 new shows, with Prime Video set to showcase the most original local content among video-streaming platforms in India, including Netflix.
Most of the shows for Prime Video are being produced by top Bollywood production houses such as Anurag Kashyap's Phantom Films and Farhan Akhtar's Excel Entertainment. Phantom will also produce a TV series for Netflix based on author Vikram Chandra's novel "Sacred Games".
“We wanted people who knew how to make feature quality content and we found that in the features business, but not so much in the TV business,” James Farrell, Amazon’s head of content for Asia-Pacific, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Zoya Akhtar and long-time collaborator Reema Kagti will direct "Made in Heaven", a series about two wedding planners, while Motwane will helm "Stardust", a period drama about rival film producers.
Amazon's locally produced shows will include a thriller revolving around cricket, a gangster drama and a political satire directed by comedy collective AIB.
Farrell said Amazon’s research indicated that one of the things Indian consumers wanted from a video-streaming service was to watch television shows that weren’t available on traditional platforms. Indian television, for the most part, is still populated by daily soaps and family dramas that are often criticised for being regressive.
“We spoke to Zoya and Reema and they know what they are doing. Just because they haven’t done it before, that’s a question to ask … they didn’t write it like a feature. They hired a writer’s room, they mapped out a whole season arc,” Farrell said.
Bollywood has traditionally stayed away from television, often considered inferior to feature films. But with an increase in budgets and prestige, more actors and technicians are gravitating towards the medium.
Priced at 499 rupees or around $7 a year, Amazon’s Prime Video also has an exhaustive library of Bollywood and regional cinema. Subscriptions for Netflix start at 499 rupees per month, while Hotstar’s premium service is priced at 199 rupees a month.
Editing by David Lalmalsawma and Tony Tharakan