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HTLS 2019: India’s role in the golden age of entertainment

Mighty Little Bheem is an Indian animated series, made by an Indian creator — Rajiv Chilaka from Green Gold Animation — for an Indian audience. Released on Netflix in 2019, it has now been watched by 27 million households around the world, including in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. This wonderful series — inspired by Bheem from the Mahabharata — shows that great stories are universal: they can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere, transcending culture, country and language.

It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen time and time again at Netflix from Nanette, an Australian comedy special that was so popular in India to Period. End of Sentence, a documentary short set in Uttar Pradesh, which won an Oscar. And from Sacred Games to Lust Stories, both of which were made locally but have been watched around the world. In fact, after Sacred Games premiered, sales of the book soared internationally, too.

Our goal with every show or film we commission whether it’s Indian, Spanish or American, is to ensure that the creators we work with have the freedom to tell their story the way they want. Artistic expression is key to authenticity, and it is authenticity which audiences love.

Some of our greatest successes have come from supporting creators who bucked conventional wisdom. It was always said that adults would never watch shows starring children. But Stranger Things proved otherwise. And many people doubted whether Orange is the New Black, a show set in a prison with an all-female cast, would ever attract a mass audience. But Orange has become one of our most watched shows, demonstrating that more people want to see their lives reflected on screen, not just the usual suspects. In India, we’re proud that over 60% of our series and films have a woman character who is central to the story.

Once we have an original, authentic story, we need to get it in front of people, wherever they live and whatever their language. That’s where technology — something that is often seen as cold and clinical — comes in. Just like the printing press, radio or TV, the Internet enables art and culture to spread beyond the people or countries who created it.

We partner with ISPs such as Airtel and Vodafone, broadband providers such as Hathway and ACT and device manufacturers like Vu TV to ensure that Netflix works, whether you’re on a smart TV with a fiber connection, or a low cost smartphone with slow data speeds. And we sub and dub into 30 languages, including Hindi, Korean, Spanish and Arabic, ensuring that shows and films which are made in India or Korea or Spain can truly be watched by the world. We’ve also been careful to build controls for parents, so that they can decide what their children watch.

For centuries, India has been a leading centre of art and entertainment, making this one of the most important countries in which we operate. Since launching here four years ago, Netflix has licensed hundreds of Indian films and shows, and invested in over 40 Netflix originals, almost all of which have been commissioned by Indian executives who live locally, know the culture and speak the language. These originals have been shot in over 20 cities across the country, including Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kolkata, and Kochi.

We recognise that being part of the local creative community in India also comes with responsibilities, in particular the need to develop the talent pipeline and give new voices the chance to be heard. In the last year, we’ve supported multiple writing and production workshops. And we have eight women who are either first time directors, producers or writers working on our film slate for 2020.

Storytelling goes to the heart of what it means to be human. We all remember the stories our parents told us as children, and how they helped us learn and start to make sense of life. At Netflix, we’re excited to be part of this golden age of entertainment: ensuring more cultures are reflected on screen; building greater empathy between countries, and increasing our understanding of the world through storytelling.

Reed Hastings is co-founder and CEO of Netflix, the world’s most popular Internet entertainment service. The views expressed are personal

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