By: Yohan P Chawla
With IPL round the corner, Hotstar is set to launch Roar of the Lion, the story behind CSK’s comeback from a two-year ban in the last IPL. It’s a docudrama starring MS Dhoni and his team, produced by Banijay Productions and MS Dhoni Entertainment. Executive Producer of the show is Kabir Khan.
I caught up with Deepak Dhar, Founder and CEO, Banijay Asia and Nikhil Madhok, EVP and Head Hotstar Originals, for a brief chat about the concept and their plans for the show. Roar of the Lion, as Dhar aptly describes it, is indeed ‘a great entertainment story on the right platform’. Excerpts from the conversation:
Initial thoughts on the story and how the association between Banijay and Hotstar happened.
Deepak: This was actually a story that originated with Mahi; almost a year ago, actually, before last year’s IPL, because that truly was the year when Mahi and team were working on the comeback of Chennai Super Kings.
MS (Dhoni) and I interacted a couple of times. I knew that he wanted to do something with the story. Obviously, he didn’t understand the entertainment vocabulary, and that’s where I came in, and got massively excited, because it’s a cricket story and it’s the greatest comeback story we’ve heard in recent times. It’s Chennai Super Kings and it’s being narrated by Mahi. So obviously, these are the right ingredients that got my creativity going, and I immediately took it across to Nikhil and the team at Hotstar. We have worked together in the past. They too got excited. I think Cricket is a big focus area for the Star Network and Hotstar. A great entertainment story on the right platform was something that got the conversation move much faster.
And the icing to the cake was that CSK won last year’s IPL…
Absolutely. It was just destined that one after the other the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle kept falling in the right places. You realize it when the circumstances just keep aligning by themselves. So it just really became a super story to be told.
What is the format of the show? Is it a documentary?
Deepak: The format has not been explored as much, because a documentary is not considered to be a vocabulary for the masses. This is more of docudrama. I think with this we will open up the floodgates for people wanting to tell different stories in all the different possible ways.
Have you actually shot with Dhoni and the entire team or does it have footage from old games and some being recreated?
Deepak: We have actually shot with MS, the franchise stakeholders and with the players. We have been in the dressing room. I mean, we give you a holistic view of how the ‘one man’ and his core team are really trying to orchestrate this comeback.
One has to understand, why this becomes really critical for them and for us, is the fact that CSK is the best franchise in the IPL history for the last 11 years and then becomes the most controversial franchise because of the ban. Mahi takes his integrity very seriously. He’s itching to tell the story. He’s stubborn about the fact that he really wants to make the right comeback. For them Chennai or the yellow jersey is literally a skin and they really believe in it. I have had the privilege of seeing from close quarters how seriously they take it. They don’t operate like a franchise, they operate like a family, you know, and that’s the big-big difference.
I’ve seen how Shrinivasan sir and Mahi are interacting; it’s not like an owner and a team captain. It’s like a family and whatever you have seen so far as a documentary, it’s an owner talking to their team.
Will non-subscribers of Hotstar be able to sample the show for an episode or two? Or all six episodes will be behind the pay wall?
Nikhil: No, we want a large number of people to be able to sample what the show is about such a compelling story. So yes, we will make some part of it available for everyone to see, and then for a nominal charge people can watch the entire series as well.
When Hotstar announced its journey towards creating Hotstar Specials, at around the same time Deepak and team came up with this idea, and we felt that as our first Hotstar Special, we should do something which feels really big and is a bold story. It’s often said a lot of times that if it’s a docudrama, it may not be entertaining, or would be serious, etcetera. I think for exactly those reasons we wanted to break some myths and try something which is completely new, is not easily seen (elsewhere) and hence put it as a prime offering right at the beginning.
It’s a story which is so compelling that within just two or three days of the teaser and the trailer being out, there has been a real outpouring of emotions — not only from CSK fans or Dhoni fans or cricket fans, because I think at some level everybody connected last year with what they were able to achieve. But what the audience doesn’t know is what really went behind the scenes, because we simply see what happened in front.
The real human story is how it happened.
So is this a one-off season? Will the entire story of CSK’s triumphant comeback last year be told in this season itself?
Deepak: We will definitely be producing more seasons because as you know, in this new world content expansion, it’s all about really creating things that are franchisable. But to answer your question: this season will complete the story of their comeback.
Which are the other interesting storytelling formats that you would want to bring to India?
Deepak: The format for MS Dhoni’s show is one genre that I’ve been exploring and I am going to be doing a lot more. In this case we have seen this medium allows me to combine my skills of reality and drama, otherwise you get stuck. I have operated Big Brother and Bigg Boss. I am trying to mix the best of two worlds.
Which are the brands that have been associated with the show?
Nikhil: Essentially it’s a story that you’re making for our viewers and hopefully, you know a large number of them will end up enjoying the story.
From a Hotstar perspective, the annual membership is Rs 999, but if a non-subscriber wants to pay only for watching Roar Of The Lion… ie, a pack just for just this show and nothing else… will Hotstar launch packs like that?
Nikhil: We will be making an announcement about new subscription plans along with the launch. So in a couple of days you’ll come to know about the new subscription plans.
What are the plans for Banijay this year?
Deepak: We are producing The Kapil Sharma Show, The Voice. We are going to be doing another big dance reality show. So there is a lot in the normal television space that we’re producing.
We are also massively excited by the latest developments with a project like this with right personalities with the right storytelling techniques coming together and then taking it across to the right people that I know who could really help me by giving me a platform.
So there’s a lot happening and we are only about 11 months old. So, still very early days, but I think we’ve had a decent start so far.