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Applause Entertainment’s Sameer Nair on disrupting creativity & redefining storytelling

According to Nair, creating global content is much more accessible now.

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Applause Entertainment CEO Sameer Nair, who was once a hotel management student, went on to discover his true passion for storytelling and eventually landed up in the media and entertainment industry. He spent close to three decades in understanding the TV business and created some great shows during his time at Star. Nair, credited for creating daily soap operas and bringing Kaun Banega Crorepati in our lives, is now focussed on creating premium content for modern-day audiences. According to him, premium cinematic television is something which India is missing and that is the void Nair is hoping to fill. The aim is also to create binge-worthy content for leading streaming platforms. Applause Entertainments upcoming projects include Udan Patolas, Avrodh- The siege within, Taj - A Monument of Blood and The Scam. The studio is also developing the original, multi-season series Seeker with partners Gurinder Chadha and Sunder Aaron.

Nair, in a virtual fireside chat with Indiantelevision.com group founder, CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari, offered key insights into his company’s plans, creating content in today's age and the importance of storytelling. Nair was always determined to set up his own creative studio and do all formats of content. He enjoys storytelling and loves working with creative minds. He is also positive about doing multinational collaborations in order to deliver quality content that can transcend boundaries.

Edited Excerpts:

Do you consider yourself a content pioneer?

I think I have had a long career in this industry. I got acquainted with the media and entertainment business in the late eighties. I have been a content creator since then and I used to do advertising, documentaries and then I moved on to TV. Most people are unaware that I did a show called Chennai Doordarshan. After that, I spent many years with Star TV and then the famous Kaun Banega Crorepati happened. I have been lucky enough to be part of the television industry when it was in a pioneering stage. We started with a few hundred TV homes to now 200 million TV homes. I am fortunate to continue with the work that I enjoy doing. We did a lot of pioneering things. Whether I am a pioneer or someone doesn’t matter. As far as content disruption is concerned, I think it has been a natural evolution of what I have always been. This is something that I always wanted to do as a creator and I enjoy working with creative minds. Our business is a creative art-form and it takes a lot of moving parts to create what you are seeing on screen. So, I am having the time of my life.

Do you believe you are disrupting creatively?

The biggest disrupter happening in the past 20 years is the growth of the internet and how it is changing consumer behaviour and the pandemic has accelerated that. The things which were predicted that it will happen in the next seven to eight years is happening now. I think different people are doing different models but I am looking at investing money in creation and then taking it forward for licensing. Applause Entertainment is the movie hybrid business studio that looks after operating finance, attracting capital to content creation and then processing to licensing and monetisation.

You had a well stretched out journey, after leaving Star TV you did quite a few films also, so how has it helped in your journey with the streamers now? Have you had to re-learn everything when you are making streaming shows?

Way before the daily soap opera revolution happened, India used to present weekly programs. In the nineties, India produced some excellent shows. I have been a voracious consumer of all this content. I have grown up watching Hindi and English movies and American television.

So, it is not so much about relearning, but it is a different style of storytelling which is popular in the West. They have done this kind of premium drama series that we are talking about now. So, it is a function of aligning the creative people we work with to deliver on that front. I think it is more about re-disciplining as in you get used to producing content in a way. At heart, I am a creative producer; I make things happen and execute them. As they say, history goes in a circle, it repeats itself, storytelling and universal truth remain the same but what changes are people, audiences, platform, modernity, social taste and social context. So, it is a variety of content that I like.

If you go back in time, storytelling was happening in America and then came HBO which changed the way storytelling was done in television. Later, Netflix came and magnified what HBO was already doing.

HBO redefined cinematic television. It attracted a lot of filmmakers and not just TV producers. I think the advantage India has is that currently, we have our HBO moment. The whole rise of OTT and devices in the last two to three years are HBO moments. The advantage is that we have a reference point as HBO. We have seen what they have done and are able to learn best practices from them. Also, the world has become a much smaller place, the scope of global learning, global understanding, adapting new shows, working with Indian and international writers is possible today. I believe creating global content is much more accessible now. At the end of the day no matter what the technology is it needs a compelling story to attract attention.

What inspires you the most? Is it films, lives, books or to say whose work inspires you?

I never went to film school but I have always been a fan of what we call as popular culture. While growing up my mother and I used to watch Hindi movies every week for the entire seventies. I watched a large amount of TV, Hollywood cinema, I am a big fan of Spielberg and I love the Rocky series. I am not fixated with any kind of thing, I love watching documentaries as much as I love watching comedies. I like reading books, especially short biographies. I derive inspiration from the lives of other people.

What books do you love reading and what books you will recommend to our readers?

I am reading a book called IBM and the Holocaust. It is about the Nazi journey and the Holocaust. I am reading 16 Stormy Days, about the creation of our constitution. Then there is a book called Within an Empire, it is my all-time favourite. I am also reading a book named Way Finder, then there is a book called A Case For God, The Unknown Man

Do you have the ambition to become a writer, director or a showrunner?

As a producer, we are anyway showrunners. The most important thing is the producer and executive producer which I am. I have done a few pieces but I think it requires a lot of effort and focus which I am not able to give now. About being a director, I have directed in the past but currently I am happy doing this producing business. Writing is a passion; it is something I want to do in the future.

You were quite busy in the pandemic. You had Your Honour, Undekhi, Avrodh, Hostages season 2, Scam. Is it what you want the life at Applause Entertainment to look like? Are you looking at creating a studio like America, churning out stories every month?

Last year we released one show every month. We did 12 releases before the pandemic happened and proceeded to do more three to five in the last four months. So that has been our plan in any case. We want to produce a large number of high-quality shows. Our goal at Applause Entertainment is to create a diversified content pipeline that includes long-form animation shows, movies, documentaries, short stories and many other stories. We are also collaborating with international partners where we are happy to co-produce and co-fund.

The team at Applause Entertainment is looking at working with a variety of content, marketing and distribution partners. We are getting better with what we do, the learning process and after doing close to 16 shows, one gets to know the pitfalls, costs and other important aspects.

What is your parameter of success? What is your runway to make the profit?

We are a young company, maybe after five years, we will talk about year on year growth. We are a studio and part of showbiz; we have our business plan and the runway. The two big things that should come out of this is that we want to become a studio that is known for its creative output, quality of its product and then make money while doing so and also have fun while doing it. We are obviously not into the subscriber business; we are not a platform, so we are looking at working with a wider variety of content creators. Also, if the streamers get more subscribers, the company is automatically benefited. We are looking at a bigger horizon in the coming five to seven years. Our focus is to go local for global.

Applause Entertainment wants to become a studio that is known for its creative output and quality shows. We are also looking at creating subsequent seasons of the existing shows as it gives more insight. We continue to develop things that we are currently doing, we are looking at engaging with streamers at an earlier stage for some specific things.

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