‘People are fascinated with anti-heroes’

Arwa Janjali
Sunday, 15 October 2017

After the stupendous success of its original US crime drama Narcos, Netflix is working on yet another crime series for India

As Netflix is set to release its first Indian production, Sacred Games, Anupama Chopra talks to Erik Barmack (Vice President, International Originals at Netflix) about Netflix’s constant preference of villains over heroes, its association with India and its first big tryst with Bollywood.
Starring Saif Ali Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, Sacred Games is based on Vikram Chandra’s novel by the same name. The series follows the corrupt trail of Mumbai’s underworld and is directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. Excerpts from the conversation that took place at the ongoing 19th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star.

After a terrific innings with Narcos, your first Indian production is also a crime drama. Will Sacred Games be the next big Narcos? And why the focus on stories with bad guys?
Sacred Games is a lot like Narcos. There is something about the filmmakers and the actors that has made Narcos such a great show. And we are looking forward to the same success with Sacred Games. We are very excited to collaborate with Anurag and Vikram. It’s interesting to have the two directors follow different time periods and storylines with this series. As for the bad guys, I think people are fascinated with anti-heroes. And that wasn’t explored on traditional television. We believe in telling stories that haven’t been told and watched on television.
Was it difficult to get Saif Ali Khan on board for Sacred Games?
Saif is intrinsically motivated to do challenging stuff. So when he read the script, he was very enthusiastic.

What kind of stories you are looking at for India?
Since our launch, our catalogue has doubled. We are confident of producing at least four to five series in the next six months. So we are looking forward to doing more work in India. It would be interesting to do a sci-fi show in Mumbai. Also, a complicated crime series and a women-oriented show in the workplace would be great perhaps.
The general perception is that there is a lack of writers in the country. Has it been easy for you to find writers in India?
The notion that there are no writers is not true. Look at The Lunchbox. It’s one of the best independent films I have watched in the last six years. The need of the hour is to cultivate an environment where we can tell complicated stories. It’s not that potential doesn’t exist but it takes time for the structure to surface. Also, it’s important to have an understanding of the local market. We are in it for the long haul and we are willing to wait it out.

There has also been a lot of flak against Netflix. At Cannes there was such angst among several directors with respect to Netflix. Simply because there is no theatrical cinema. What has the company thought about that?
When we think about the film industry, we think about it from the perspective of consumer choice. We respect the fact that films are super important and festivals like this are super important but our choices are driven by the perspective that we want to give consumers the opportunity to experience films or series on devices, in whatever language they want and whatever time they want to watch. So it’s really consumer choice over anything else.

Also, the distinction between films and series is kind of converging. And the number of independent filmmakers Netflix has supported, I think it’s a great time to be a filmmaker and have a global footprint for distribution.

What do you like watching?
I like things that surprise us. I like Narcos, like everybody else. I think what we have seen in TV that’s similar to my taste is the genre stuff which we always thought was small but it isn’t. So sci-fi, things like Stranger Things, Supernatural...it’s so much fun!

How do you gauge success with respect to content?
What we think resonates best is authentic storytelling. We first see if the story is going to work for a specific place and then will it travel the world. We also look for cultural moments and moments of joy in a particular show.  As opposed to traditional TV, we are not obsessed with numbers and TRPs. It’s not a good artistic process.


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