Locomotive Global’s Sunder Aaron tells TBI’s Mark Layton what lies behind India’s scripted formats boom and how his own local language remake, Rana Naidu, will reinterpret a US anti-hero with a Bollywood spin.
The streaming revolution has been a global affair, but few scripted markets have received quite so dramatic a transformation as India has in the past few years.
With broadcast television dominating viewing habits for so many decades, it was primarily through soap operas and serials that local writers had found the chance to cut their TV teeth. This, however, has all changed with the streaming boom. US SVODs and local players alike are trying to stake a claim in what has become the world’s fastest-growing streaming market, and creators have been branching out into new genres and ways of telling stories.
As Sunder Aaron, co-founder and principal at Mumbai- and- LA-based prodco Locomotive Global, explains: “Once the OTT world opened up and streaming started to happen, we were lucky enough to suddenly have all these projects and for work writers, who quickly started adapting and evolving. The writing over the last 3-5 years has improved leaps and bounds.”
There was, of course, a learning curve for talent more used to writing a Bollywood film than an eight-hour streaming series, says Aaron: “They have to understand the grammar of this medium, they need to understand the language of it and how to tell a story not only over long form, but over a series.”
Aaron suggests that this is one of the key reasons why India has appeared so attracted to scripted format adaptations, and their oven-ready scripts and bibles.
“That’s still one of our weak areas, so as a result it’s an opportunity to go around the world and look at some terrific tried-and-true formats,” says Aaron. “Of course, some production companies have been very successful at doing that and executing that.”
Aaron cites Sameer Nair’s fellow Mumbai firm Applause Entertainment as “a terrific example” of a company doing great things with scripted formats, with the prodco behind Indian remakes of shows such as The Office, Luther, Fauda and Call My Agent, among others.
A natural translation
Locomotive, of course, has its own big, scripted format adaptation right around the corner, with Rana Naidu, its local language adaptation of Showtime crime drama Ray Donovan, set to debut on Netflix in early 2023.
The shoot has now wrapped and Aaron says he is excited to see how audiences respond. “It’s one of the first times you will see major south Indian stars in a big Netflix show, so we’re hoping that’s going to have an impact.”
Plot specifics are being kept under wraps for now, but Aaron confirms that it will follow the broad strokes of the original show at least, with real-life nephew and uncle Rana and Venkatesh Daggubati cast as a Bollywood fixer and his ex-con father.
“In adapting the character, we also wanted to show somebody who was a fish out of water. In the original, you’ve got Ray Donovan and his family coming from the tough south side of Boston to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, so we also needed the same dynamic,” explains Aaron.
“We are bringing our character from Hyderabad, his whole family is south Indian, and they come to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood and Mumbai. So it was a natural kind of translation, in that sense.”
For Aaron, however, the upcoming show’s connection to its US original is largely academic and he expects the series’ merits to speak for themselves: “We feel that Rana Naidu can stand on its own two feet globally. Even when [Ray Donovan] was distributed globally it was probably mostly known in English-speaking territories.
“So I’m hoping that there will be a lot of interest in seeing a series from India about a fixer in Bollywood. And maybe people will make the connection, and maybe they won’t.”
Grounded in India
Aside from Rana Naidu, Locomotive has also partnered with Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Films and the aforementioned Applause to co-produce international drama series Seeker.
First announced back in 2020, Seeker will follow the improbable journey of a small village guru’s ruse to international prominence and see his once simple existence transform beyond all recognition. Offering an update, Aaron says that the project is currently in the middle of scripting and will likely go into production around the start of next year.
And this is just a taster of what Locomotive has in the pipeline, the exec adds. After being acquired by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment last year, Aaron says that the company has been “aggressively developing more projects”.
Other upcoming titles include a horror series in development with Amazon Prime Video; a “Mad Men type of show” based on the book The Making Of Star India that is about to be packaged; and a show in partnership with Endemol India and Element 8 that Aaron describes as “True Detective set in the mountains of the Himalayas.”
He reveals: “The platforms that we want to work with are the ones that have a global reach. At the same time, we’re talking to networks in the US and the UK, because they’re also widening their scope and we’re hoping to set up projects along those lines as well.”
And, as with all Locomotive’s productions, the aim is to creative something that is “grounded and rooted in storytelling in India, but has the potential to be global property,” says Aaron.