EXCLUSIVE: SonyLIV has commissioned its most ambitious original series yet, an adaptation of the non-fiction book about Indian independence freedom at midnightas the streamer prepares to become a global service within three years.
News of the series order came in an extensive interview with SonyLIV’s Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer, Danish Khan, who also oversees Sony Entertainment Television and production arm Studio NEXT. During the conversation, he touched on several other new commissions, plans for global expansion and the future of the popular Scam detective thriller brand.
drama series midnight freedom is based on a non-fiction book by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins and presented as an epic political thriller set in 1947, the year of India’s independence and partition. Abhinandan Gupta, Adwitiya Kareng Das and Gundeep Kaur are adapting the text as writers.
“Independence was not just a move from British rule to an Indian democratic system. It was made up of many elements, actors, subtexts and undercurrents and this text is very well documented on the inner workings of the days leading up to Indian independence,” Khan told Deadline.
SonyLIV sister company Studio NEXT is working on freedom at midnight with Emmay Entertainment trio Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani and Nikkhil Advani, who produce with the latter as showrunner. “We have the right partner – Nikkhil Advani has done a fantastic job with our rocket boy series,” Khan said.
The second season of Rocket Boy – about the men behind India’s nuclear and space programs – is one of many more SonyLIV originals to come, along with others including Vikas Bahl’s good bad girl; in-house manufacturing Faadu; Tanaavan adaptation of the Israeli drama Fauda; and garmiwhich comes from Tigmanshu Dhulia.
Khan’s chief noted that since SonyLIV shifted from a catch-up service to a subscription model focused on ambitious original shows in June 2020, the streamer had grown from less than 80,000 users to more than 18 million.
SonyLIV chief revealed freedom at midnight was the service’s biggest production investment to date, with filming planned in India, Switzerland and the UK and several big-name stars on the cast. “It’s the most expensive and ambitious show we’ve done so far, just because of the number of people involved and the number of great lead artists,” he said.
The show is currently in an extended pre-production stage, with plans to shoot in the next six to nine months, COVID permitting.
He also revealed three other original shows: Children of Libertywhich is from showrunner Sudhir Mishra and based around a group in their mid-twenties in 1977 who suffered the first government crackdown in their lifetime; Jazz Town ’71, which deals with the Bangladesh liberation war and which Khan presents as “the only language war”; and India’s first election, about how despite massive illiteracy after India’s independence in 1947, a democratic election was held. Rahul Dholakia is a creator and director and StudioNEXT produces.
Global launch plans
SonyLIV, which like Studio NEXT is part of Culver Max Entertainment (fka Sony Pictures Networks India), operates in a fiercely competitive Indian OTT market, where Disney+ Hotstar and Viacom18 battled this week for IPL rights. He has access to Culver Max’s library of shows and movies, but is now focused on pursuing original orders.
Khan said the service, which is known for popular crime drama Scam 1992: The story of Harshad Mehtacould reach far beyond current subscriber numbers and was now beginning its international expansion partially delayed by the pandemic – with plans to be a global service for the Indian diaspora within three years.
SonyLIV is currently available in 28 territories including Europe, UK, Middle East, North Africa, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In the United States, it launched on Sling TV.
“One in five or sixth people in the world is Indian, so the market is really big but the value hasn’t been unlocked over the years,” Khan said. “The thing is, technology like OTT, good direct-to-consumer and long-tail shows are more likely to travel. It may take time, but we will be a great Indian content service for the global market.
Turning a “scam” into a big business
Elsewhere, Khan spoke about the future of Applause Entertainment’s production Scam franchise, which began with Scam 1992: The story of Harshad Mehta and will soon continue with Scam 2003: The Telgi Storywhich stars Gagan Dev Riar as counterfeit magnate Abdul Karim Telgi and has Hansal Mehta as showrunner.
“Scam it’s not about the crime but about a very smart and capable person losing his way and his morals,” he said. “These cases will continue to emerge in society. They are absolutely brilliant minds, ambitious people, and they always have a story for everyone. The brand can continue for Applause and us.
Scam 2003 Set to launch in 2023 as part of what Khan calls a strategy of “cerebral yet entertaining” original shows.