Aparna Purohit, Amazon Prime Video: ‘We are now developing original content in Tamil and Telugu’

The Head of India Originals at the platform on how they choose scripts using data and instinct, the success of their original content, and why 2020 is a fertile time for creators

Paatal Lok. Inside Edge. Made in Heaven. Mirzapur. Four More Shots Please!

Aparna Purohit is defined by these titles and the rest of the Indian Originals on Amazon Prime that have distinguished the platform ingeniously — with its clear focus on regional/ hyper-local themes — from the rest of the participants in the OTT rat race in India.

The current Head of India Originals at Amazon Prime Video comes from a background that includes working on the Mumbai Mantra | Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab as well as the NFDC Film Bazaar — which speaks volumes about her current role that thrives on the ability to choose the right scripts among thousands, and green-light it to be filmed.

“The strategy for content has always been backwards from our customers, who come from over 4000 cities and towns all over the country. We don’t necessarily program for one target group; there’s always something for everyone. You can see that with the range of themes and genres covered with our original content,” says Aparna.

Jaideep Ahlawat gave a career-defining performance in ‘Paatal Lok’

Her role at the organisation is “listening to a lot of pitches and reading a lot of stuff, while storytellers keep sending scripts to sift through,” she says — and it’s clear that Aparna thoroughly enjoys what she does; her enviable track record is there for all to witness.

So, what helps her make these decisions? “Well, data is great. We are a very data-driven company. We know what our viewers are watching, where they are watching it, at what point the interest starts waning… such tools really help. However, a lot of gut, instinct and knowing the pulse of our audiences is used to marry the tech we have to reach decisions,” Aparna replies.

One of the platform’s biggest selling points is its vast array of regional titles in languages such as Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam; something competitors like Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar pale in comparison to.

“Competition is never our worry,” quips Aparna, answering a query on how they plan to combat several of the new platforms (such as Aha in Telugu) that cater to only-regional markets. “We are now developing original content in Telugu and Tamil, apart from the regional acquisitions we have. My colleagues down south are listening to a variety of pitches as we speak, and it’s a matter of time till the next Amazon Original comes out in a south Indian language.”

Does that include the rumoured anthology involving filmmakers such as Gautham Menon and Karthik Subbaraj? Aparna refuses to confirm, only adding that “glocalisation” is a very important part of their focus: “We are constantly seeing that the lines between languages are blurring. For instance, Kumbalangi Nights is one of our most successful titles on the service, and enjoys a viewer base across the country.”

Soubin Shahir in ‘Kumbalangi Nights’

She adds that while the Amazon Prime team in India is constantly in touch with their global counterparts in the U.S as well as other parts of the world to follow a common ideology, the focus is on content resonating with the different local audiences respectively. “We really believe we need to protect and hone our vision of our creators, and make our platform a safe, unrestrained safe space for them.”

What have they learnt from their subscriber base during the lockdown? “I feel very fortunate that in these difficult times, we have been able to provide some relief to customers. There is a great appetite for all genres; but more importantly, it is a real fertile time for creators as everybody now is focused on writing and pitching their shows to us,” Aparna says, while also shedding light on their focus towards diversity and inclusion: “Which is why we have so many female-centric films and shows, by female creators as well. It’s the very fabric of our company. A title like Four More Shots Please! has been written, directed, and acted all by women.”

With a slate of 14 titles coming out soon — the most recent among them is the just-released Bandish Bandits that marks the digital debut of composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy — Aparna has a bustling rest-of-2020 gameplan in store; one that she cannot wait to set into motion.

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