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Digital expansion is beneficial for broadcast industry: Deepak Segal

Applause Entertainment's content head talks content strategy and teases upcoming projects.

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MUMBAI: Deepak Segal has over three decades experience in the film and television industry. His repertoire of work includes key positions to drive content strategy across media giants like Fox Television Studio India, Sahara Motion Pictures, Star India and Star Plus. Now, as head of content at Applause Entertainment, Deepak Segal drives the studio’s vision of building a content hub that tells great stories across mediums, catering to millions.

Apart from creating good content, Segal is extremely passionate about aeroplanes. In fact, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of aircraft – be they World War II fighters or more modern airplanes. Segal was in the air force before he ventured into the broadcast industry. As the son of prolific Bollywood director Mohan Sehgal (who launched Rekha in Sawan Bhadon), he had film-making in his veins, and eventually decided to follow in his father’s footsteps.

With Applause Entertainment riding high on the success of Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Segal spent some time with Indiantelevision.com’s Shikha Singh, sharing his thoughts on OTT content and the broadcast industry, how it has evolved, and much more.

Excerpts from the interview:

On handling Covid2019:

The Covid2019 pandemic is disrupting every industry. Due to the lockdown we stopped filming Criminal Justice. We have restarted the shoot 15 days back by strictly adhering to all the protocols laid down by the government. The pandemic has slowed down the overall process. We coordinated post production work over Zoom calls. The editing and soundtrack was completed remotely.

For Scam 1992, we had barely finished the shooting when the virus struck; all the additional work like audio, soundtrack, visual effects and sound design happened during the lockdown. The team that was working on it stepped up during this new norm and we delivered the story in record time. The Applause Entertainment and SonyLiv teams did a brilliant job to make it happen.

On the studio’s content strategy:

At Applause Entertainment, we made a conscious decision to invest in creative content rather than make a pilot, develop concept around it and commission it. We have put all our creative and financial minds to make it work. Also, it is like a new way of working in the industry where you get the confidence in the platform as they are investing huge money into it. Now, we are in a position to partner with OTT platforms for scripted shows. In a way, you have proved to them that you can create a premium drama that India requires. So far we have 15 shows on air and it has worked for us in many ways. We are also in the process of developing the Indian version of the super hit British psychological drama series Luther. Currently, we are in the writing process. We are also developing The Seeker, it’s a bigger project than we’re used to and we are working with international writers for this.

On upcoming original series Call My Agent:

Call My Agent is the Indian adaptation of French workplace comedy Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent), originally created by Fanny Herrero and showrunner Cedric Klapisch and represented by TF1 Studio and France TV Distribution. Narrated through the POV of four high-profile agents of celebrities, Call My Agent will tell the behind-the-scenes stories of the magic and the madness that keeps the star system running. Fragile egos, manipulation, shenanigans and insecurities come to the fore as the agents traverse the world of glitz and glamour. The series stars Rajat Kapoor, Soni Razdan, Aahana Kumra and Ayush Mehra and each episode will feature real-life celebrities who play a fun and exaggerated version of themselves. After having directed several films across genres featuring A-listers, Shaad Ali has decided to helm this project and leap into the world of premium drama storytelling. As far as the acquisition is concerned, we get formats from all sorts of markets. Acquiring an international series and adapting it to the taste of Indian audiences is also challenging. The show is set to go on the floors late October.

On the challenges of adapting foreign IP:

OTT has created a new set of audience that is looking for premium content. A lot of people have graduated from viewing daily soaps.

While adapting international shows, you need to conceptualise it a little longer. The scale at which international content is filmed is very different from our scale. Every show has its own challenges. We need to adapt the characters and make it more relatable to Indian audiences. Apart from the main characters we also need to keep minute details in consideration like background, language and people. References have to be appropriate. A lot of things depend on the writing. The challenge is to make the script resonate with viewers by adding local elements. Our primary objective is to stick to the original story line. We want the story to travel across India, which is why understanding the universality of the story is crucial. 

On the original vs adaptation conundrum:

From the beginning we have been creating original shows. It is not like we only do adaptations, it is generally a mix of both. Undekhi, Avrodh and many other shows were original. Even when you buy the rights to a book and adapt it, you need to build the characters first and make the storyline impactful.  

On collaborating with Banijay Asia:

Banijay is the producer of the show Call My Agent. We are the studio and they are the producer. We have worked with them on Hostages and there are other shows in the pipeline as well. By now we have teamed up on a lot of projects, so there is a trust factor involved. For Call My Agent, Applause Entertainment holds the IP.

On the rise in demand for OTT:

OTT got a big boost due to the pandemic. Theatres were shut down, TV production was halted, so the only source of entertainment was OTT content. We churned out content during this period also. There are many studios who are capable of producing a huge volume of content, Applause is one such platform.
 
On production houses shifting from linear TV to OTT:

Yes, people are flocking to OTT content, but television shows are still immensely popular in India. Both mediums have different sets of audiences but they are not mutually exclusive. A viewer who watches linear television also watches OTT content. Various streaming platforms have become hugely popular among the Indian audience due to a number of reasons. For production houses it is always beneficial to diversify the segment and expand their footprint in the digital medium. Any expansion of the process helps to maximise the industry. Acting talent emerging on OTT content is quite phenomenal which is usually not available on film.

On identifying stories:

Story is one of the key factors, which is followed by the relevance and connectivity of the subject. Then we discuss with the creative team how we pan it out into 8-10 episodic series, keeping the audiences engaged and entertained with strong storytelling at its core. We observe how the characters scale and how much potential it offers us to create shades for them/build room for innovation.

The irony is, there is nothing easy about selecting stories and how you want to tell them. While family dramedies are highly appreciated in our country, timing the witty remarks and the dynamic of character, the premise sets etc, make it imperative that they flow well. Else the simplest constructs can go unnoticed or not create an impact on the viewer.

On picking genres:

We are looking at all sorts of genres as we want to reach out to all buckets of audiences. Today the viewers are open in exploring different genres and as creators we want to have diverse content. With Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story we have created a financial thriller, Avrodh is a gritty and realistic account of the surgical strike, Mannphodganj Ki Binny is a dramedy set in the heartland and Hello Mini is a thriller. We are open to all sorts of genres.

Of course, we listen to what the audience has to say. Digital has become a great way to gather insights, understand consumer psychology and their points of view on topics. It gives a leverage to mould out setup, characters and story telling.

On competition in the content creation space:

Competition is there in every field; you have to make sure your product stands out above all. A strong content is the deciding factor. If you are telling great stories, you will have an audience.

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