Netflix viewers can expect more made-in-India titles as the streaming service ramps up its investment in shows from the nation.
In the coming months, 17 films and television series will be released, running the gamut from romance and drama to comedies and thrillers.
In an e-mail, Monika Shergill, vice-president of content at Netflix India, tells The Straits Times that the slate is “well-balanced”.
“It gives almost equal representation to male and female writers, directors, producers and actors. These stories from India’s finest creators represent the tremendous diversity that Indian storytelling holds for the world,” she says.
One film, released last week, is the biopic Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (PG13, 112 minutes). The story of India’s first female air force officer to fly in combat is now among the top 10 most-watched films on Netflix Singapore.
Director Sharan Sharma says in a separate e-mail interview that shooting the aerial scenes – mostly in the European nation of Georgia – was a “surreal” experience.
The production team was “clear from the start” that real aircraft would be used as much as possible, instead of relying on computer effects.
“The aerial action was definitely a major challenge, as it needed a very specific kind of expertise. However, it was also the most thrilling part of the shoot,” says the director, who makes his feature debut with the film.
The flying scenes depict helicopter pilot Gunjan Saxena – played by young actress Janhvi Kapoor – in training as well as in action during the 1999 Kargil War, an armed conflict between India and Pakistan.
“It was almost surreal for me, my director of photography and Janhvi to be up in the air, filming for six days. We were glad we stuck to that decision. It was a lot more challenging and probably more expensive, but I feel it was worth it,” Sharma says.
The story depicts Saxena’s struggle against the prejudices of the ’90s. Officially, the walls stopping women from becoming pilots had come down, but unofficially, male pilots created new obstacles.
Viewing women as enemies of cherished masculine traditions, the men set up women pilots to fail, such as by refusing to build women’s changing rooms and assigning flight duties to only men.
“The film is a reflection of Saxena’s journey and the kind of mindsets she had to tackle. It is a reflection of the world we lived in and continue to live in. In 2020, it feels like a lot has changed, but there still is a long way to go,” Sharma says.
“It gives almost equal representation to male and female writers, directors, producers and actors. These stories from India’s finest creators represent the tremendous diversity that Indian storytelling holds for the world.” – Monika Shergill, vice-president of content at Netflix India
Also making his feature film debut is director Honey Trehan, whose crime thriller Raat Akeli Hai (NC16, 149 minutes) was released on July 31. Through the eyes of policeman Yadav, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the norms of life outside India’s major cities are exposed.
The screenplay, written by Smita Singh, shows how “culture in a lot of small towns is still steeped in a feudalistic mentality,” says Trehan viae-mail.
Yadav’s attempt at tracking down a murderer is complicated by the involvement of a powerful family who is linked to the trafficking of women. The cop is repeatedly reminded of his place in the local pecking order, one defined not just by family connections, but also by caste.
“The darkness is always hidden deep within, where everyone knows it exists but nobody talks about it,” he says.
Coming to Netflix Singapore on Aug 21 is the crime thriller Class Of ’83 (NC16, 98 minutes).
Set in the 1980s, it stars Bobby Deol as Vijay Singh, the tough but mysterious dean of the police academy in Bombay (now Mumbai). He recruits a group of cadets and shapes them into a secret vigilante team, embedded with the police but acting outside the law.
Director Atul Sabharwal says the film, loosely based on a non-fiction book by S. Hussain Zaidi, seeks to capture the spirit of a turbulent period.
He says in an e-mail: “1980s India holds a special interest for my generation. It was eventful, and not always in the best possible ways.”
It was a time of increased militancy and political assassinations, and closed markets made smuggling a lucrative business. Anyone seeking to open a business had to obtain a bewildering array of permits issued by bureaucracy dubbed the “Licence Raj”.
“Corruption was rampant in government departments because of the Licence Raj,” Sabharwal says.
The story, which deals with the use of murder to clean up the streets, is not based on any single case.
“Mr Zaidi, the writer of the book, was present as a research consultant and always helpful with anecdotes and facts,” Sabharwal says.
“The film uses fictional archetypes, in situations inspired by real events all over the country, not just from Bombay of the ’80s.”
Here are some upcoming made-in-India works on Netflix. Release dates are to be confirmed.
This article first appeared in The Straits Times.