In the first of its extensive plans to create original content in India, video streaming platform Amazon Prime Video has announced a war series that will be directed and produced by Kabir Khan. While announcing the collaboration, Roy Price, Vice President of Amazon Studios, said that the aim is to create content that has “the scale of films and storytelling of television”. According to reports, Amazon Prime Video has set aside a budget of roughly $300 million for original programming in India and are in talks with 19 filmmakers at the moment.
Khan’s show, tentatively titled The Forgotten Army, is based on a documentary of the same name he made in 1995 about the lesser-known heroes who fought for Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army.
You can watch Khan’s documentary here:
Khan’s last few films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Ek Tha Tiger have been massive successes at the box office. He also had Salman Khan to power these blockbusters. This year too, his next release with the superstarTubelight is expected to have a grand opening on Eid.
And yet, the filmmaker says that his deal with Amazon will offer him creative liberties that Bollywood can’t. We ask him to list the reasons why a director who has everything wants to embrace digital.
LIBERATES YOU FROM BOLLYWOOD TRAPPINGS
A lot of people have been asking me why at this point in my career when I’m working with the biggest stars and making the films I want to, I’ve decided to sign up with this platform. I feel that what they give me is even more creative freedom than a Bollywood film. There are certain self-imposed parameters within which we have to operate when making a big Bollywood film.
We have pressures of the box office and there are certain things that you try to oversimplify. A Forgotten Army is a subject that doesn’t need all of that. It needs to be told in a true international way without the restrictions put on me by Bollywood.
AFFORDS SCALE THAT MOVIES CAN’T
Most importantly, Amazon is giving me scale that I don’t think even Bollywood can offer right now. This is an 8-episode finite series which will be thrice the size of my biggest film. The story needs that because it’s an epic war drama set against the backdrop of World War II. It will be shot over Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Burma. So it needs a certain scale that is not possible in Bollywood right now.
LANGUAGE ISN’T A BARRIER
When you’re doing a mainstream film, you always try and make it more accessible because you’re catering to a certain section of people. With Amazon, you don’t have to think about this because it’s truly a global audience. We’re making a series for 240 countries. Let’s take Netflix’s show Narcos as an example – it’s a Spanish language film and it’s one of the biggest hits in Japan. So language is no barrier.
But in a Hindi film, you have to make it just in Hindi. Something as simple as not having a language restriction can set you free. I can cast Japanese actors speaking in Japanese and subtitle them.
YOU DON’T NEED A SUPERSTAR
The whole star system doesn’t come into play here. In my initial conversations with Amazon, one of the things that I really liked is that if the story needs a certain budget
then that budget remains the same irrespective of who the star is. In films, if you have a star, the budget will go up to Rs 100 crores. The same story, if you don’t have a star in it, comes down to Rs 10 crores.
Here it’s the story that demands the budget. If the superstar comes in, then great. If he doesn’t, it’s still okay because other than 14-15 countries who’s going to recognise them anyway.
TEACHES YOU A NEW WRITING PROCESS
As a director, I’m approaching this exactly like a film and planning to shoot it like one as well. The only thing we do have to be careful about is the writing. We need to create certain high points for each episode. In a film you always create an interval point, but now I have to create eight of them. It’s something I’m doing for the first time and I’m really enjoying it.
NEW AVENUE FOR GOOD STORIES THAT DON’T GET MADE
I think there is a great appetite for good storytelling and this is definitely going to be a platform that is going to get filmmakers to narrate stories that wouldn’t get off the ground if you were stuck in the Bollywood format. We’re already seeing that worldwide – stories which would not have been made into feature films but today we’re getting hooked to them on digital platforms. You can experiment much more with this platform and let yourself go.
DIGITAL IS THE FUTURE, EMBRACE IT
This platform is not an alternative to film. This is where films are also being consumed. My film Bajrangi Bhaijaan which is considered to be one of the most viewed films has reached out to 38 million. Even Kabul Express and New York are already on Amazon. It’s the platform in which the youth is consuming films and what is happening is that theatre goers seem to be going down. You can’t fight it. Ultimately I want people to watch my films one way or another. The faster you embrace the change, the better it is.