EXCLUSIVE: For Banijay Asia’s Deepak Dhar, 2023 is shaping up to be one of the busiest in a three-decade career in Indian media. He has just launched The Night Manager India on Disney+ Hotstar, is delivering several scripted and unscripted shows and is also working to position India has Banijay’s Asian production hub.
“There are four pillars to our business,” he tells Deadline. “Unscripted, scripted formats, original scripted and developing India as the outsourcing hub for a lot of the rest of Asia.”
The theory is countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, which share professional and audience taste similarities to India, will use Banijay’s Indian production assets for remakes of formats such as Temptation Island and Survivor. “They can be easily produced here,” says Dhar, who can tap local tax credits to help finance series.
His team is now at an “advanced stage of working out how this outsourcing hub will work,” he adds, noting that Banijay India had a practice run back when Endemol Shine India shot the Chinese version of Big Brother at an industrial base near Mumbai in 2015.
Even back, the plan was to turn India into the local production powerhouse for neighbors but much has happened in the intervening time: most notably, Banijay took over Endemol Shine Group as the world went into lockdown in 2020. Dhar himself had exited Endemol Shine India in 2017 and launched Banijay Asia a year later as a 50-50 joint venture with Banijay. The takeover reunited him with many of the formats he’d excelled at making over the years – Big Brother and MasterChef among them.
“We’re little over four years old and we’ve made some big strides in that time,” says the exec, who counts spells at MTV and Star Network on his CV. “We are seen as an all-round production studio making scripted and unscripted content.”
Within a short period, Banijay Asia made shows such as music reality series ARRived, cricket doc Roar of the Lion, stand-up comedy/talkshow The Kapil Sharma Show, The Voice India and Into the Wild With Bear Grylls. It’s understood several local versions of Banijay reality formats Survivor and Temptation Island will head into production in the second and third quarters of the year, once deals are finalised. “As producers within the Banijay Group we want to help create the next era of opportunities together,” says Dhar. The Tamil-language version of Survivor for ZEE5 Global launched in 2021, as we revealed at the time.
Other new unscripted shows include Grylls special Ranveer Vs Wild for Netflix, and Discovery+’s Mission Frontline and Hunt For the Mujahideen. Dhar has struck up a strong relationship with British adventurer-broadcaster Grylls. The pair worked with Bollywood star Ranveer Singh to create the interactive storyline for Ranveer Vs Wild, which is in essence a classic Grylls-plus-celebrity survivalist program with a technological twist – allowing Netflix users to decide how the special plays out.
“Marrying technology with content has been another pillar of Banijay Asia,” says Dhar. “We were trying to build something in the interactive space when we saw what Black Mirror and You Vs Wild were doing by offering viewers the choice to determine an outcome while watching the series, so our development teams worked on a story and a legend where we zeroed in on Serbia and the legend of the Serbica Ramonda flower, which is the rarest flower in that region. We married it to the biggest celebrity in India, Ranveer Singh, and that’s how the show was born.”
Local dramas have included period drama Velammal and football drama Bombers. The current slate includes Disney+ Hotstar Tamil-language memory loss thriller series Fall and supernatural drama Dahan – Raakan Ka Rahasya and SonyLIV’s Undehki. Thanks to the streaming boom in India, there have also been several international scripted formats remade, notably Call My Agent Bollywood for Netflix, Hostages for Hotstar and, most recently, a buzzy India version of The Night Manager for Disney’s local streamer starring Anil Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur. Soon, Indian versions of The Good Wife, Suits and House will follow.
While the current political climate in India is making life uncomfortable for some creatives, Dhar is taking a long-term view for the shows on his slate. International scripted formats haven’t yet come under much scrutiny and have continued to form a key part of Banijay Asia’s focus.
“What happened in streaming five years back in India was incredible and gave us a lot of energy to start building up scripted format shows,” says Dhar. “But we’re also very excited to be building a slate of our own scripted titles that resonated with our audiences – Dahan was among the top ten most viewed shows of last year. These are long-term franchises building season after season.”
Banijay Asia also struck a deal to adapt scripted formats such as False Flag, Rising Star and Yellow Peppers (The A Word) from the Keshet International catalog, and Dhar says he is at “advanced stages of talks with clients” over production deals. “We have appetite to produce international format, so we are the premium choice for our partners to give their best titles,” says Dhar. “A few more” rep deals will follow.
Looking more broadly at Asia, Dhar says the growth of local-language markets such as Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam means that though the Hindi-language market will likely “hit a ceiling at some point,” there will plenty of business to do. “We’re seeing tremendous growth on the linear side and good growth on the streaming side,” he assesses. “I’m an optimist — Banijay Asia is sitting at the centerpoint of the growth as we’re delivering for both sides. If the streamers hit a ceiling we see the linear networks wanting more, and if the networks hit the ceiling, the streamers go hell for leather.”
Southern India, which has gained a reputation for creating cool drama series that streamers like, is a “very interesting market that we chose to focus on very early on in the Endemol days,” Dhar says. “I personally love doing content in different languages, because it’s ultimately all about the language of emotions. If you can create content in six or seven markets, you become one of a very few studios who can be counted on to make that content. It’s a big opportunity got us and we’re at an early stage of our plans.”
With Banijay Asia on a hot streak, it seems logical Banijay Group CEO Marco Bassetti might move to up the super-indie’s stake to a majority position. Dhar sidesteps the question, but responds: “The Banijay Group, at its heart, is entrepreneurs who like to run their own ship. We understand the local market and we get tremendous support from Marco, Stephane and Peter. There are a lot entrepreneurs like me in the group supported to create value on the ground in our respective markets. It’s a win-win between us and leadership.”
For now, Banijay Asia is focused on how The Night Manager India is performing. According to local ratings monitor Ormax Media, it was the second-most popular Indian original streaming for the week following its launch on February 17. Creator Sandeep Modi recently joked with Deadline he’d like to get a second season out before the original English-language title returns. As it played out, we then revealed that Tom Hiddleston is set to reprise his role for a second run of BBC show, with Prime Video also attached.
Not that Dhar will mind.