Anirban Roy Choudhury

“Adaptation is not a strategy for us”: Gaurav Banerjee, Star India

Star India’s video streaming platform, Hostar has announced its sixth “Specials” show, Out Of Love. It is an Indian adaptation of the British Show, ‘Dr. Foster’ a franchisee owned by BBC. The Indian version will feature Hindi film actors, Rasika Duggal and Purab Kholi in the lead. Produced by BBC Studios, the show has been directed by filmmakers, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Aijaz Khan and is slated to launch on November 22, 2019.

‘Hostar Specials’, a vertical under which Star India will roll out its Original digital only shows, was announced in January this year. In March 2019, ‘Hotstar Specials’ made its debut with a sports documentary, titled, ‘Roar of The Lion’. Back then, the platform said it has 150 million monthly active users with an average time spent of 45 minutes. Star said it wanted to reach a billion screens by 2023 and increase the total time spent — the idea behind, ‘Hotstar Specials’. Then came the Cricket World Cup and IPL and at one point Hotstar claimed to have crossed 300 million monthly active users, higher than what YouTube’s claim of 275 million monthly active users.

Also Read: Hotstar eyes billion screens by 2023; launches 'Specials'

Under ‘Hotstar Specials’ it rolled out ‘Criminal Justice’, two seasons of ‘The Office’ (both adaptations of British versions), ‘Hostages’ (adaptation of the Israeli version), and political drama, ‘City of Dreams’.

As Hotstar gears up to roll out its next title we interviewed, Gaurav Banerjee, president and head, Hindi Entertainment - Star India. Here’s what he had to share about Hotstar’s content strategy.

What about Dr. Fosters appealed to you that you decided to adapt it?

I saw the series many years ago as a viewer, much before the idea of Hotstar Specials was born. I really liked it and I thought this was great drama featuring exciting characters and I felt if we sort of adapt it correctly it could work. We gave it a shot back then for TV and it did not seem right. This time BBC reached out to us and we got to think about the plot and the character… it sort of came together very nicely and we said yes.

What got you to change your mind?

The reason why we got excited beyond personally liking the show and the story was that when we think about the streaming landscape of our country, a lot of the content that seems to be happening is a) Male-focussed, b) Hugely centred on action, c) Thriller and d) edgy and adult-focussed. Nothing wrong with any of that but it all seems to boil down to a certain kind of show. We felt, ‘Out of Love’ dramatically beats that. It puts a strong woman at the centre, and focusses on a relevant issues around marriage. It is a complex human emotion-led drama. Therefore it stands apart from a lot of the content that is happening right now.

“Adaptation is not a strategy for us”: Gaurav Banerjee, Star India

Are the adaptations targetted to the ones who’ve already watched the international versions?

Honestly, the audience that has already watched the international version would be a very small set. The first thing we thought is, if we can get this adaptation right is there an insight that could connect with our audience in India? “Out of Love” raises a question on modern marriage and infidelity, therefore, the important question for us to ask was, is this something people are worried about. That answer seemed to be yes. We believe modern marriages are under stress, people are talking and thinking about divorce a lot more. It is something that is in the air and yet no one is actively talking about it through a TV show or through a big film.

What’s the advantage of an adaptation?

Adaptations have one great advantage — we already know that a great story has been written. That gives you confidence, we know this is great material, someone somewhere has liked it. It is the same way in which we know Shakespeare cuts across languages. All of us in this country have got to know Shakespeare, some through English while others through the many other languages his stories got translated into. That is equally true about Indian authors such as Rabindranath Tagore and Munshi Premchand. We don't only want to do adaptations but we are excited and happy to do an adaptation if we feel that there is a great story that could be relevant to us.

While working on an adaptation, do you commission a studio and then see the final product or do you also stay involved in the creative process?

We remain hugely involved throughout. I think we have a strong content team and we debate a lot with the creative folks and in this case with Tigmanshu and Aijaz. It is not a model where we select a story and say see you later. What is the tone of the story? Who are the right actors? Where do we want to set it up? All of this is debated a lot. The most important decision we take is, who is the storyteller? Once we take that decision we also believe they should have the final right of agreeing or disagreeing. If the showrunner feels a certain way about a creative decision and if my team doesn't agree or I don't agree, we will still go with his creative instinct.

Is there enough room for you to tweak and innovate while doing an adaptation?

If we wanted to change a lot then why are we taking the story? We must only take a story once we believe that the story and the characters are great. If we believe that, then we should not break its soul. Having said that, it needs to feel authentic in India. There are certain things, let's say the way a husband and wife will talk in India will be very different from the original. The creative team works really hard to get that right, then we have managed to land the adaptation well.

Once the show is made what is it that gets people to watch it?

Marketing plays a vital role, have we got the trailer right for people to find it exciting? The name that we put out must evoke an interest, the poster must intrigue and must be different. It should show that there is good talent and it is of high quality. What people make of the creative? Do they find the acting really superlative? These are the important things that determine how it turns out.

Are all your Hotstar Specials targetted at a common set of audiences or do the marketing strategies change?

We are seeing differences from show to show. This is our sixth launch and we have only been doing this for eight months now, so we do not have a massive trend that holds across the range of shows. Marketing something like "Out Of Love" on Star Plus makes a lot of sense as the channel has a huge female audience. When we did a sports documentary, we got a lot of support from the sports network. We think about the right place to reach out to fans for the nature of the content.

Adaptations are a big hit on television, Bigg Boss (adaptation of Big Brother), Kaun Banega Crorepati (adaptation of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire) and many more are still running strong, do you see a similar trend emerging on digital?

It could. We have seen that with Criminal Justice and Hostages, those shows did really well. Hopefully 'Out Of Love' will add to that. Adaptation is not a strategy for us, it something that we have done a lot in the beginning. It is just one of the things that we want to do. Our take is to try and find a wide range of stories and great quality storytelling.

After six shows and eight months of Hotstar Specials what are the trends you have picked up?

It is too early for us to make large statements. What we have seen emerging are, people truly appreciate quality, they are becoming more demanding, talent matters immensely, a good actor or a good director is a big win. When we say Criminal Justice did really well for us, it’s because people deeply appreciated Pankaj Tripathi or Vikrant Massey's work.

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