Eros’ Ridhima Lulla talks to BizAsia: “We’re truly poised to entertain on a global scale now”

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Having just announced its humongous merger with STX Entertainment, Eros International was among global production houses to react quickly in overcoming shooting challenges for original shows, as well as keeping viewers hooked during the recent lockdown. Raj Baddhan from BizAsiaLive.com caught up with Ridhima Lulla, Chief Content Officer of Eros International, to discuss how it continued to meet audiences demand with fresh content despite the lack of resources.

Okay, so let’s start first of all with the original, new show, ‘Flesh’, starring Swara Bhaskar. So tell us a bit about this and how it came about.
Sure. So we have actually been working with a lot of the top directors and show runners of the country, and one of them happened to be Siddharth Anand, and him and his wife who produced the show. They came to us with this fantastic idea of creating a show. Back then it was actually called ‘Lost’ and it was taking a deep dive into the underbelly of human trafficking.

So the show actually came about to them through a true incident that occurred in their household when one of their staff’s daughter went missing and she was never to be found, never known what happened to her, and that affected them in such a way and they really wanted to create some content to raise awareness about this. And I guess that’s where the story really came from. So we brought a fantastic writer on board the show, Pooja Ladha Surti. She also wrote ‘Andhadhun’, so she’s really, really great. And we had previously shot a pilot of the show. And then we actually focus group tested that pilot. We worked on a couple of things because obviously it’s a very sensitive topic, and in India, the nature of such content can be seen as quite wide and explicit. So we really wanted to handle it carefully by putting a strong message out there.

We ended up then green lighting the series post making some changes after the focus group. We got Swara Bhaskar on board, a bunch of other talented people to collaborate, and we really wanted to tell the story of how women and children fall prey to the vicious industry of the flesh trade. We also got Akshay Oberoi as the antagonist. I don’t know if you’ve managed to see the show yet, so I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it’s quite suspenseful. But we’re very excited about the success that it’s got, the awareness that it’s raised, and also just collaborating with such fantastic talent who really have a lot of strong vision and care for the product that they’re making.

So we know that ‘Flesh’ is one of three originals that you’ve launched after the lockdown. In fact, during the lockdown as well, you launched a couple of shows as well. So how has that process been for you and how had the lockdown changed things for you?
Well, the lockdown was quite productive I think for us to be honest. We’ve managed to get a lot done. And I think that one of the things we’ve mainly discussed as soon as this COVID pandemic has occurred is that how do we continue to be a pillar of entertainment and fun and support to people? So I think that we were quite conscious of the fact that despite the lockdown, despite not being able to actually have any physical productions where several team members are present, we wanted to find clever and intelligent ways to patch together interesting content.

We were lucky enough that none of our shows or films were actually stuck in production

How did we do that? We were lucky enough that none of our shows or films were actually stuck in production. We were all in the clear. So most of our content that was released, like ‘Flesh’, was all in posts. That was something that was great for us. But with regards to the previous content before Flesh that we had released during the lockdown, this was all stuff that was completely written, conceptualised, created during the pandemic, during the lockdown in India. We had a really fantastic relationship with Raj & D.K.. We’ve done a couple of their films before. We actually got in touch with them and they were producing and show running a show called ‘The Viral Wedding’ where we got all of the talent to shoot themselves in their own houses, figure out how to patch those content together, and just create a really fantastic project about a girl who had planned her wedding and COVID occurred and how she had to adjust to the circumstances and have a viral wedding. So that was pretty cool.

We collaborated with them for one of our shows, ‘Metro Park’, which has done really well for us. Some of the actors were in India, they were in LA, and we managed to create a really, really funny show called ‘Metro Park Quarantine Edition’. So that was pretty unique and it had its own challenges, but I think it all worked out really well and we got a lot of success for that.

And apart from all of these shows, we also announced the [STX] merger, and that was something that was quite unique to happen during this lockdown. But we really have taken this time in our stride, taken a step back and tried to focus on what our strategy is to entertain people in this new kind of world. And we’re lucky that we have a studio vehicle that operates quite clearly in terms of the fantastic films that we’ve been creating, but also to have the online platform. So we really haven’t managed to stop entertaining people. It’s been a very, very exciting time for us, and we’re truly poised to entertain on a global scale now.

When it comes to content, how do you keep your ideas fresh, especially in the competitive times that we’re living in?
It’s very difficult to really answer that question because I think that the only way we can keep ideas fresh is by truly collaborating with a very curious team. I think that we have to keep finding new content and in the sense that finding new stories through interesting avenues, whether it’s through our history, whether it’s through our mythology, whether it’s through relevant social issues that people care about today. I think that we as a group have just tried to really focus on what is the strategy going forward. And I think we want to create quite aspirational, relatable content. This is something that I’m quite passionate about. We want to be taste-makers, taste curators. I think that it’s quite easy for people to witness trends and say, “Oh, let’s follow that.” But I think that we want to be the people that set those trends.

And I think that that comes from having obviously, a combination of a strong gut feeling about really what does well and resonates with audiences, but also comes from having that balance with researching what does well. We want to be able to know… That’s why we do this focus group testings, to be honest, when we create our content before we dive into it because we want to make sure that what we are putting out and the way we’re putting out that really resonates with audiences. So stories that are aspirational, relatable, stories with social messages without being too on the face but just something that will really share the emotion and voice of the people. And we also want to educate and entertain our audience. I think that’s quite important. Just to be quite progressive and adapt to the young, new India, but also attempt to penetrate rural India too.

So when it comes to localising content such as ‘Metro Park’ with the US edition, how about plans for UK audiences? Anything that you’ve got working on that you think that can relate and resonate with UK audiences?
Definitely. The UK… I think that’s where we first started, to be honest, one of our biggest markets for Indian content. And like we’ve localised content within US, as you mentioned, we’re going to be doing the same within the UK. I think that, for example, we try to play upon the bigger communities here that would respond to culturally some of the films that we’re working on. So I think that now, since we’ve announced the module, we’re planning a very robust and diverse content state will really have different pockets that will resonate with different audiences such as the UK and the US. So what I can say to that for now is watch the space.

What does the merger with STX Entertainment mean for consumers and the content you produce?
Sure. I think in a nutshell, it will simply means cross-collaboration of talent, production, just general business facilities at all angles. So we want to give the opportunity for Indian talent to be showcased that haven’t on a global scale. Whilst they’ve done that through Indian cinema, it would be great to explore that through international cinema as well. We also want to open the avenues for international talent, largely US talent as well, to be able to have their inroads to India as well, but just a massive market where I think that a lot of the larger films, the larger visual effects films do really well. But I think that it would be good to open up some of the smaller films as well, because there is an audience for that.

And we actually are quite excited about that, and that’s why we launched Eros Now Prime, where we’ve launched English content as well online, the first being on NBC’s catalogue. We have several announcements coming in that way, but really, I think it’s just cross-collaboration of talent and business synergies on a global scale in all angles. I think that’s really what it is in a nutshell.

Staying with the merger, what type of new innovative Indian shows can we expect?
Sure. We’re actually planning a really exciting announcement coming soon, which is going to boost our forthcoming slate. So we’re aiming to give people about one premium flagship show at least once a month. We’re also going to be announcing about like 50 to 60 quickies that we’re doing, which is quite exciting. That’s our short form content.

We currently have an audience base of over 200 million registered users now & about 33 million monthly paying subscribers in 10 languages

Also a content of digital films as well, and more about our foray into regional languages, because obviously we have a large catalogue of regional films, but we’ve been delving in to show productions as well. So I think that we’ve got a lot on the mythology side coming, a lot of comedies since we really want to make people laugh right now. I think that’s going to be important, and a lot of interesting crime and drama coming away as well. We currently have an audience base of over, I think, 200 million registered users now and about 33 million monthly paying subscribers in 10 languages. We really want to explore the content pipeline through our funnel of originals, digital film, and short-form content within all of those languages. So we’re quite excited about the slate.

What about distribution, are you planning to further extend the reach of Eros Now?
I think that, to be honest, we have so many different distribution methods that we’re pretty much everywhere, and we’re on the main one. We’re the only actually Indian media company on Apple TV as well. So I think that for us, we’re really trying to be everywhere and anywhere much like our tagline. We’re with all the major telcos as well in India and across the world. We can bring to audiences in China, the UAE. It’s an ongoing process within.

Ridhima, you’re British born, so you understand the needs of a British Asian consumer when it comes to accessing entertainment. What’s your take on the linear TV channels that are offered here?
I think with regards to the Asian platforms, what sort of content is available is largely films, music, and potentially like just TV shows that are on Indian TV channels as well. So pretty much it’s the same in the sense of it’s more of a selection rather than having what you have fully available in India. So I think what is on Asian television channels in the Western world is more curated towards that audience whereas the digital content is more progressive, it’s more new age, it’s a bit more risky. And I think that why would the lines blur on TV if that’s already available on OTT. I think the youngest generation is very much more towards watching shows on digital platforms rather than watching say the more TV serial style content that is available on TV. So I think that there’s a different audience and different demographic for both, but sometimes the lines sort of blur. And I think there’s a space for everything.

Any exclusive before we finish this interview, Ridhima?
That’s a tough one, we’re quite secretive with all of our announcements. But what I will say is that, as I said, we’re trying to plan a very exciting slate announcement, where we’re going to be talking about all the different languages that we’re foraying into. And I would love to give you an inside scoop into that just before it’s coming.

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