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Deepak Dhar, Nikhil Madhok on Hotstar Specials show, content creation, consumption trends

Banijay Asia & Dhoni Entertainment are co-producers of 'Roar of the Lion'

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MUMBAI: Hotstar’s bid to create big, bold and authentic stories and innovate across formats and genres for its much-anticipated Specials landed the streaming service a collaboration with Deepak Dhar’s Banijay Asia and MS Dhoni’s Dhoni Entertainment for its first show. The mini-series, ‘Roar of the Lion’, is a behind-the-scenes look at the incredible comeback story of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) going on to win the 2018 Indian Premier League (IPL) off the back of a two-year ban.

“It’s not just about cricket but the human spirit of fighting back. So it didn’t actually take much time for us to say that we should do this together and then Deepak and team have worked really hard to make this come alive,” says Hotstar EVP and head original content Nikhil Madhok.

Dhar, who was struck by the idea during the last IPL season, believes a comeback story of this nature hasn’t really been told from a sports and entertainment perspective.

“That space itself is a virgin space and something which is very unique to us and if Mahi [MS Dhoni] was to really lead it and tell us himself how he was doing it, there’s a great space for a show there. So that’s where I started putting the jigsaw puzzle and took it across to Nikhil and Gaurav [Banerjee] at Hotstar and then we started together collaboratively building this,” recounts Dhar.

For Dhar, it was the coming together of the right story, right platform and right people to embark on this journey. Hotstar as a brand is widely considered as the home of cricket in India. With over 150 monthly active users, the platform was a natural fit for a show of this nature. Having recognised the power of the story, the streaming service plans to throw its might behind the show making it available in multiple languages. Going forward, there’s a good chance of Star Network’s formidable repertoire being leveraged to maximise the penetration of this show.

In order to ensure reach, every product needs to be marketed and promoted right. While Dhar is the creative force behind the project, does he have a say in how Hotstar presents the show to its consumers?

“I’m not involved, but I do have a bit of a say there. There are specialists and people who know that side of the game better than I do. I understand the content and the creative or the production side of the game so obviously, after a point you’ve got to let go, you’ve got to say everybody is obviously putting their best foot forward. But I do have a say on how this should be put out,” argues Dhar.

Documentaries, as a genre, remains largely untapped in India, often not even seen as a mainstream entertainment medium. While Dhar is a tad nervous ahead of the show streaming, he’s also convinced that Dhoni’s story is bound to become a trendsetter for the genre.

“I think with this show, that’s really bound to change. We’re exploring this in an untold manner, so there is a little nervousness as being one of the creators. But I think it is going to be very fresh, very different from the way you see either a documentary or a scripted series,” the former Endemol Shine India boss points out.

While the story is bound to excite fans of Dhoni and CSK a great deal, the makers also expect a lot of young people to form the core viewing group for the show.

“I think when people will log in, I suspect that they will find it difficult to slot it in a particular genre. Hopefully, they’ll just say that this was a really inspirational tale,” adds Madhok.

While Hotstar and Banjijay could end up joining forces for another show post ‘Roar of the Lion’, the latter is in the midst of developing a diverse range of projects catered for viewing on platforms as part of its joint venture with Dhoni Entertainment.

“This is what all producers and all content creators have been waiting for and it has finally happened with all kinds of content being accepted,” Dhar states.

While the industry has slowly veered towards finite storytelling in the last five to seven years, Dhar says a mini-series would have found no takers a year ago.

“People wouldn’t have even entertained this conversation, but today they are wanting to collaborate on it. So obviously things have really changed, forget in the last five years, in the last 12 to 24 months things have really changed,” he says.

Madhok describes India as a unique market that will continue to witness the growth of both TV and digital. He sees a great deal of innovation in content, with both mediums delivering a fantastic amount of variation.

“Digital is about individual consumption and that also means that you need to cater to much wide array of tastes and that’s what’s driving the whole thrust towards a huge amount finite consumption,” he highlights.

The IPL spot-fixing scandal remains among the biggest and most controversial cricket stories of our times. Given the subject, protagonists and the secrecy around the entire affair, Hotstar and Banijay seem to have a sure shot winner on their hands. In fact, Madhok articulates rather aptly.

“Usually either the ideas tend to be niche or the platforms tend to be niche. For the first time, we are putting together an idea which is massive on a platform which is the country’s biggest. I think the marrying of those two will hopefully produce a fairly dramatic result,” he sums up.

Is a sequel in the offing?

“I think the story has great merit to come back because it has some strong magnets, but obviously we have to get the first one out of the way,” Dhar responds with a smile.

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