Veteran Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth”) has revealed thematic details about his Working Title romantic comedy “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” starring Lily James (“Yesterday”) and Emma Thompson (“Last Christmas”).
“It’s a story of identities,” Kapur said. “It’s about cultural clashes and it’s a comedy, but it’s about hiding behind an identity and how identities can become tribal, and how tribalism can lead to clashes and fundamentalism. It’s a romcom, but based on this fundamental idea of people adopting identities out of fear of marginalization.”
Kapur was speaking on Tuesday at the Asia society’s annual U.S.-Asia Entertainment Summit, being held virtually this year, at a panel titled ‘Cinemas to Smartphones: Streaming Wars and the Future of Bollywood and Indian Content.’ Kapur is currently conducting rehearsals in London.
“We just did a reading and everybody’s laughing and crying and I was thinking, well, that puts more pressure on me now,” Kapur said.
“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” is written and co-produced by Jemima Khan (“The Case Against Adnan Syed”). She was married to former cricketer Imran Khan, who is currently the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The film also stars Shazad Latif (“Departure”).
Indian cinemas were shut down in March due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and are now slowly reopening. In the interim, streamers saw exponential growth.
Fellow Asia Society panelist Gowree Gokhale, partner at Nishith Desai Associates, a legal firm that helps facilitate international shoots in India, said, “You have so many platforms, people have actually moved to a pay-per-month type of a mindset.” Gokhale said that consumers hear of content word of mouth from friends and family and subscribe to the platform supplying that particular program for a month or two, rather than taking an annual subscription.
Another panelist, Sameer Nair, a television industry veteran with stints at Star TV, NDTV Imagine, Turner General Entertainment, and Balaji Telefilms, who is now the CEO of production house Applause Entertainment that produces high-end content for OTTs, likens the current Indian scenario to the heyday of satellite television in the early 1990s where there were lots of players and investment.
“This is really like a land grab phase where you got a potential 500 million, a large audience,” said Nair. “I think the streamers now reach 20 million, it’s a long way to go, so there’s obviously much excitement.”
“I think that we are a little far away from a shakeout, this is really a growth phase where there’ll be a lot more investment as we essentially move audiences from TV to streaming,” Nair added.
For a country that produces some 2,000 feature films a year, India’s cinema screen penetration is low, with just 9,000 movie screens catering to a population of 1.3 billion. Yet, the country now has 1.2 billion phone connections accessing some of the world’s cheapest data. The number of smartphones is 700 million and growing.
“Every new technology creates a new culture of content creation and a new culture of content consumption,” said Kapur. “So really what we’re watching with the OTT platforms is a completely different nature. It’s not replacing theater, although it might kill theatrical. It’s been on the cards for a long time, 9,000 theatrical screens, and (a projected) 900 million cell phone screens. This gap has been waiting to be filled for so long.”
Kapur said that OTT platforms have brought rooted Indian content into drawing rooms and that the divide has already happened, with cinemas existing for high-concept movies. However, “India still has a way to go to be able to challenge international content,” Kapur said. “We need to up our game a lot. We need to up our game in budgets.”
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