As Netflix works on developing a variety of Indian shows and movies, literary adaptations for screen continue to occupy a special place.
The popular streaming platform Netflix has always nurtured a soft-corner for ‘Book to Screen’ projects. Screen adaptations of literary works including Sacred Games, Bard of Blood, Selection Day, and Mismatched are among some of the most successful original series on this platform. Last year, it released a six-part series based on Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy. This year, it released the critically-acclaimed movie The White Tiger, based on the Booker prize-winning novel of the same title by Aravind Adiga, and the series, Ray, which adapted four short stories by Satyajit Ray. The streaming platform, which had earlier this year announced an interesting slate of upcoming shows for 2021, has some more screen adaptations in the offing.
During an in-depth conversation about their content, Rohit Vedprakash, director of India Originals Series, Netflix India, talks about their selection process, opting for a mixed bag of shows, screen adaptations and why the platform has come up with several anthologies of late. Excerpts:
Do studios come to Netflix with ideas, or is it an individual writer or producer who makes a pitch?
Anyone can share their ideas with us. Normally, people just send us an email, give us a call, or even WhatsApp their ideas. They get in touch with us via agents too. But more people are now approaching us directly. The series’ creative team, which has about 14 people, looks into the proposals.
Does commissioning of shows come with a certain amount of challenge, especially when people have been critical of some Indian content on Netflix?
We realised that there are different kinds of content that people like. For instance, the series Mismatched (based on the book When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon), is something we wanted for young adults. Everything doesn’t have to go into the Delhi Crime (2019) and Sacred Games (Season I in 2018 and Season II in 2019) kind of territory, which is very dark and gritty. Indians really like thrillers. However, the idea of an ideal service is to have a large number of the audience come in for different shows. There are also creators who don’t want to make dark content. We would like a mixed bag of shows and content to come out.
Netflix has been fond of book-to-screen projects. How did one of your recent screen adaptations, Ray, come about?
Viacom 18 came to us with four projects. Of those projects, they had actually shot three of them, Taj Mahal 1989 (2020), She (2020), and Jamtara (2020), completely. These are shows that we acquired and licensed from them. Out of the four stories in Ray (screen adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s short stories), they had shot Bahrupiya. The other ones we were going to collaborate on and get different directors to come in and do their magic with the stories.
What kind of creative inputs did Netflix offer once it came on board?
We tried to figure out from them the directors for the show. They threw up a list of names for us. We jammed on it. They started asking a lot of these creators. We also checked on their availability, time, and interest.
What do you think about the reaction Ray generated?
We were aware that there are a lot of people who love Satyajit Ray and that people are going to talk about it. We were prepared. Any kind of show or feature we do, we may think it’s great but then people watch it, comment on it and then we get a sense of what has worked. With Ray, I feel that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While many people have really liked it, others have not been able to connect with it.
Anthologies can be tricky since one or two stories can stand out while others might not work. Is there a push towards anthologies from Netflix?
No, I don’t think there is a push per se. Right now, it looks like there are a lot of anthologies, but that’s not the intention. It is just a culmination of different things and ideas coming together. Because of the pandemic, a lot of things could not be done. The first of the lot that got made were these anthologies because they were different teams working on each film. Different teams can work on the episodes individually in case of an anthology. In the case of a feature film or a series, showrunners or creators have to work on six or eight episodes at one go, then do the music, edit, and do other post-production work. That process is so much longer. Anthologies may have just happened to arrive a little earlier.
What can we see coming out under your supervision?
There will be Aranyak, the Madhuri Dixit show and Mai. There will be another show, which we’ll announce soon.
Any other books that you would like to adapt on screen?
There is a French graphic novel that we’ve put into development. A Malayalam book, written in the 80s, will be adapted into a series in Hindi. That’s how the makers have interpreted it. A lot of creators come to us with book adaptation ideas and we’re very open to it. Many want to do something like Sacred Games — something with that kind of imagination, world, and characters. We’re looking for books, which have a lot of wonderful characters and great stories that resonate with us and our audiences.
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