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Streaming platforms to splurge on period dramas

NEW DELHI: Video streaming services are spending big bucks on acquiring and developing shows set in history that could cost them 20-30% more than contemporary stories. Applause Entertainment, which is yet to announce the platform it is creating the show for, is making a multi-season series on Gandhi having bought rights to two books on the subject. SonyLIV that saw great traction for Rocket Boys, a biographical series on Homi J. Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, is now planning a second instalment. It is also in the process of creating shows from other historical tales. A show on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh founder K.B. Hegdewar is in the works, while Netflix’s feature film adaptation of The Archies, directed by Zoya Akhtar, will be set in 1960s India. Executives at streaming services said such tales bring a more mature audience to the platform, a category they need to build on with the pandemic having brought older and family viewers into the OTT fold.

“Though the young were early adopters of digital content, average age of the Indian SVoD (subscription video-on-demand) viewer has risen now with a lot of older people discovering the access to and variety of OTT during the lockdown. And people who can currently afford OTT subscriptions like cerebral content and deeper stories,” said Ashish Golwalkar, head, content, SonyLIV and Sony Entertainment TV at Sony Pictures Networks India. The platform is committed to telling stories of India, Golwalkar said, through book adaptations and stories of figures who played a part in the formation of the country.

The appeal of period dramas and tales transcends ages, gender, and preferences, said Deepak Segal, chief creative officer, Applause Entertainment. “This is because history is an interesting topic to a large audience, and age is just a number. It is important for us to know how we have reached where we are and what transpired in the past to give rise to such good stories,” Segal added.

The investment for period pieces is definitely higher than stories set in contemporary milieu, said Laura Mishra, associate producer, Locomotive Global Media, a production house working on web originals that is developing a show about the emerging Indian television industry in the 1990s. “But based on audience reaction and opinion, they are also the most-watched shows on streaming platforms. To maintain authenticity of a period piece, production has to be thorough with research to ensure historical accuracy. Moreover, the correct writer and director is key to making a good, effective and commercially successful period piece,” Mishra said.

About 70-80% of the total budget of period shows goes into art direction and production design, including sets and costumes, said Akshay Bardapurkar, founder of OTT platform Planet Marathi.

To be sure, market research shows that there’s inclination and interest in period-specific content across borders. Films like The Imitation Game, Sardar Uddham, Gangubai Kathiawadi and shows like Peaky Blinders, The Crown, and Bridgerton have broken linguistic and cultural barriers and been enjoyed by people of all nationalities, Mishra said.

“Period dramas are a tried and tested method, known to yield success. Trends come and go but vintage never goes out of style, similarly stories set in a different period always retain a certain appeal. With the world constantly changing, it is assuring for young audiences to see a rose-tinted and highly romanticized version of a different era. It also provides them with a window to experience a whole different time period and imagine themselves in that duration,” said Hima Bulusu, associate director, key accounts at digital agency TheSmallBigIdea.

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