NEW DELHI: It was in July last year that what used to be known as the ABP News Network rechristened itself as ABP Network, and started on a journey to go “beyond news” and disrupt the ever-growing content-ecosphere with new capabilities. The fulcrum of this transition was said to be ABP Creations – a unique content and production company, under which ABP Studios was established to offer path-breaking content. The Studio, which will officially launch later this week, will serve stories rooted in Indian sense and sensibilities but possess a flavour that can appeal to the global audience. ABP Studio business head Zulfia Waris, in an elaborate discussion with Indiantelevision.com’s Mansi Sharma, tells all about the studio, its offerings, and how they are willing to redefine the Indian content space. Edited excerpts follow:
On ABP Studios and its offerings
ABP has been the head honchos of the news space for the past many decades. However, a few years ago, Avinash (Pandey) and the network got into this discussion of going beyond news and growing as a network. The seeds were germinated then and that eventually resulted in the creation of ABP Studios.
We have created a true-blue production house that will be involved in the production and syndication of content. We also have a brand solutions team that is going to tell impressive and engaging brand stories. Other than that we are building our capabilities on generating great OTT content, podcasts, and interactive storytelling.
On the brand identity of ABP Studios
We are launching with the slogan “Stories beyond black and white” that essentially means we will be coming out with characters and stories that are more real and bring out the individuality of each character. We are living in a very polarised world right now, where a person is either a hero or a villain. We are trying to break that status quo and telling people that even a hero can have issues, can be grey.
For example, in Game of Thrones, if you look at the character of Cersei; she is such a beautifully grey character. The audience might hate her but they also empathise with her because she is such a brilliant mother. She is out there killing people because she wants to protect her family. That is a character which is nearly impossible to show in India.
One character that has really been at par with that, in Indian content space, has been Hathi Ram Chaudhary (played by Jaideep Ahlawat) in Paatal Lok (produced by Clean Slate Filmz). He is a power cop but he has his weak moments, he has his vulnerabilities, and he makes so many mistakes. That’s what made the series so successful, in my opinion.
Our stories, therefore, are going to be a combination of empowerment, engagement, and entertainment
On the kind of stories that ABP Studios will be telling
Our vision is to tell stories and create IPs that are truly ‘glocal’ in nature. We have been seeing Korean, Turkish, Israeli, etc content doing so well in India and we, so far, have not been able to reverse that trend. ABP Studios is therefore picking up stories from the depth of these countries, which have the potential to travel internationally and leave a mark. We will be producing a lot of regional content.
There is no hard-and-fast rule for the genre, language, or length of the story, as far as it goes beyond the black and white narratives that we are used to seeing. Yes, our core focus is on creating content for OTT platforms, but we will be churning out a lot of platform-agnostic content as well.
Also, I am sitting on a gold-mine of content here at ABP Network. They have told so many powerful stories and I have the access to material as old as several decades. So, fact-based content is going to be a strong foothold for us. It is not going to be an extension of news and will be shown in a very different light. But it is very enthralling to have access to such a vast library of ideas and stories that have actually happened.
On controversies around content
As I have mentioned, we are willing to back those stories and characters that are grey. I feel controversies happen when we try to paint any character in absolute black, which does such a disservice to any character as it loses out its individuality then. We need to tell powerful stories but the narrative has to be balanced. That’s what we are trying to get to with ABP Studios.
On their focus on regional content
We are very excited to explore the regional content space in a way it has never been done. India is a diverse country; the language, the beliefs, the myths, everything changes at every five kilometres. And there are so many stories that are waiting to be told.
We realised that the biggest regional-language hub, which is the south Indian market is already well-served, and people there are proudly churning out some path-breaking content. So we are starting off with the next two big markets: Marathi and Bangla.
In fact, we will be launching with the premiere of a Marathi film called Karkhanisanchi Waari that we have co-produced. This is a slice-of-life story that has already performed really well at some international film festivals and showcases. We are very excited to launch that. Next, we are working on a Bengali-Hindi docudrama, which is already on the floors.
On monetisation strategies
We are a classic studio setup and we are in the business of creating IPs. So our monetisation strategies depend on commissioning the content to various platforms; with a larger focus on OTT and then TV etc. The OTT space has a lot of appetite for good stories and we will be satisfying that. We will also work on the licensing of content. We have built a small but strong team of in-house writers, directors, executive producers, etc. So, we are well-positioned for that. We are also going to churn out a good amount of branded content.
Additionally, we are already on advanced-level talks with a number of creators, writers and international producers who want to tell Indian stories. So, we are in the process of making some of that happen soon.