In 2015, after working for multiple international corporations, Ridhima Lulla finally decided to join her father Kishore Lulla’s media and entertainment company, Eros. Eros International (now ErosSTX Global Corporation) is a gamechanger in the world of content, being the first Indian entertainment company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. For almost five decades, they have produced critically acclaimed and commercially successful films, and later branched into many verticals. When Ridhima came on board, she was ready to take on the challenge of making the company’s presence felt in the digital space as well.
As Chief Content Officer, Ridhima runs the content strategy for Eros Now, the OTT wing of Eros. Over the past two years, Eros Now has been capturing the Indian and international market with its unique original online programming, including two shows made exclusively during and about the pandemic. With several titles announced for this year, it is evident that Eros Now is already a significant part of the OTT ecosystem.
Excerpts from her chat with LetsOTT…
Q. How did ErosSTX adapt to the restrictions of the lockdown?
A. Honestly, things haven't been too different than before. In fact, this time has been instrumental for the company to ideate on more content and work on our collaborations. We have some big announcements coming up with some great shows and films where we get to work with excellent actors and technicians. We took the lockdown period in our stride and its reflecting in our work.
Q. Eros has been a game-changer in the world of Indian media and entertainment since its inception during your grandfather's time. It goes without saying that cinema runs in your blood. What got you started?
A. I've been passionate about literature, cinema, and creativity ever since I can remember. I even write my own stories. It's not only because my family is already part of the industry but because I love watching movies and devouring stories. I love the way good content can connect with different people in different ways. It also enables you to discover aspects of yourself which you hadn't before. I couldn't imagine myself doing anything other than being able to present such stories.
Q. As a creative producer, how involved are you in each project? Will we get to see one of your stories being adapted onscreen?
A. I don't know if I have the confidence to have my own work as a film or a series just yet. But in terms of production, I am extremely involved in every aspect of a project from conceptualization to release. I read everything that comes our way and then it's my job to provide the writers with whatever form of support they need. Our writers are extremely talented and we must empower them in the way that they do their best. We do have access to the best facilities and people and other forms of support in the world, and we must learn to connect our writers to that.
Q. What is the ethos of the company in terms of talent going forward? Do you intend to create a talent pool or constantly lookout for new talent?
A. At the moment it is a mix of both. As the demands of the audience change, our thought process will evolve accordingly. But either way, we don't intend to box creativity or our writers in any way. One way of creating content at the moment is our collaboration with Colour Yellow Productions and some other creative agencies. We also have an in-house scouting system that is constantly looking to expand the pool. Everything in this regard is quite fluid. We want to be able to connect the right people to the right people and tell good stories. Some writers work better in isolation, some in a writers' room, it depends.
Q. The digital/OTT ecosystem is already pretty crowded and competitive. How does Eros intend to carve its own niche?
A. Our biggest advantage is the roster of titles that we already possess under our main banner. In the last fifty years, we've been educating and entertaining audiences and they are already aware of the banner and its capabilities, thus creating a loyal fanbase for all that we already offer online.
In terms of the digital ecosystem, of course, we are trying to make a mark. So we intend to build upon our legacy brand but also create content for a new audience. We were the first OTT platform in India, so we did think ahead. Even the content we are creating is very different from what's already been around. Now that we are an international studio, we are also trying to target a wider audience world-over. We are also partnering with other platforms for a greater showcase of our work, like Apple TV for instance. We were the first platform to take our content to Cannes. It's about creating greater outreach but still on the foundation of the style we're already known for.
Q. How do you plan to tap into the Tier-2 and Tier-3 sectors of the country?
A. We've tried to reach out to different demographics through different verticals. Of course, we have our films which are meant to reach out to a theatrical audience, but we also produce extremely massy short-form content. We've created certain service provider-based partnerships so that we can reach out to smaller towns and villages. We have a separate section for more metropolitan and international audience-friendly content as well.
Q. Your films have been headlined by stars and have been extremely massy. With shows like Flesh, which had Swara Bhasker in the lead, is the intention to create 'prestige' content as well?
A. Why wouldn't we want big stars in our productions? But honestly, our casting process is extremely organic. The intention is not to use stars as names to sell a title, our stories can market themselves. With 'Flesh,' Swara was a natural choice because we wanted a powerful woman who could do such an intense role. Some actors have the calibre to give the role exactly what it demands. Still, what we are trying to change the industry is the idea that the film should be built around the story and not around a person to maintain the creative integrity of the project.
Q. 'Flesh' also became one of the first big shows for Eros' digital wing. Would you want to continue with such stories?
A. Our focus has always been the story. Our first show was 'Sidehero' starring Kunaal Roy Kapur who isn't a big star, then 'Smoke' with Jim Sarbh, Kalki Koechlin, Mandira Bedi, and Gulshan Devaiah. These are known names but they're not massive stars. But we knew that we were pushing the envelope with good stories with appropriate casting. At that time, we were just trying to figure out what the audience likes and creating a strategy around that. We realized that we want to be 'taste curators' now. There has to be a healthy balance between giving the audience what it wants and something fresh and new. 'Flesh' is dark but it's still a slice of reality and we aren't shying away from telling the truth. We're trying to concentrate on the fact that there are many social concerns and we'd like to bring attention to them as well.
Q. Does OTT help in giving producers and directors the freedom to explore such themes?
A. Bold and fantastic stories have always existed within our culture. It's not come into play now but there are more people willing to support it. We are lucky as a platform to always have that intent and support around us, that we've done it in the past as well. Of course, now I can do it with more confidence because I know the audience is there - it's wider and more receptive. They've had that kind of exposure, even to international content, that I know that as long as we make something that matches those standards, the local audience will appreciate it.
Q. According to you, what is the future of OTT platforms when theatres reopen post the lockdown? As a company that works in both verticals, how do you see your business evolving?
A. I'm not too worried about that because I feel a healthy balance has already been achieved just before the pandemic. Television, OTT, cinema co-exist quite healthily. We already have the big-budget festival or event films for the cinema, the budget films for OTT, and everything syndicated for television. With time, things will reopen and people will return to the cinema for the experiential film but enough people will still have fantastic content online.
Q. What are some upcoming collaborations for Eros Now?
A. At the moment, we can't share too much detail on what you can expect from our partnership with NBCUniversal, but it's going to be very exciting.