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ANIMATED FUTURE

A Mumbai-based startup may soon create India’s answer to The Simpsons

By Sangeeta Tanwar

The Mumbai-based content creation startup Supari Studios is in the throes of creating India’s first animated digital series for young adults.

The yet-to-be-named show, slated to be on YouTube soon, will mark the entry of a homegrown company into the big league of content creators, vying with Netflix and Amazon Prime, besides established movie production houses.

“We hope the series, created under our original content division, will be India’s answer to shows like The Simpsons,” Supari Studios co-founder Advait Gupt told Quartz. The film, Gupt explained, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone extinct due to their misadventures. Animals now dominate Earth and, they too, have begun to commit human-like follies.

Significantly, the project is being bankrolled by RSVP Movies, run by media veteran and former UTV boss, Ronnie Screwvala. The deal with RSVP marks a major accomplishment for Gupt and his brother Akshat Gupt, who launched Supari Studios in their early 20s, fresh out of college.

They began operations in 2012 by putting together content for mobile phone users and have since climbed the value chain to create branded content for names like beverages maker Redbull and Asian Paints. Supari’s animation division has also created music videos for Warner Bros Records, besides those featuring popular artistes such as Dua Lipa, Jason Derulo, and Nicki Minaj.

Supari’s growth demonstrates how independent Indian video content creators have evolved in recent times, to support different themes and formats. Given the popularity of over-the-top video platforms in India, the future looks promising.

Advantage homegrown firms

“In this period of digital boom, the insatiable appetite for content will only see growth,” said Ridhima Lulla, chief content officer of Eros Digital, a film production and distribution company.

Numbers back her claim. Indians are consuming 190 minutes of video per user per day across different platforms, according to a 2018 report published by the Confederation of Indian Industries and Boston Consulting Group.

Further, the Indian online video industry’s revenues will surge to $1.6 billion (around Rs11,000 crore) by 2022, compared with $340 million in 2017, claimed a report by global media consulting firm Media Partners Asia.

Homegrown firms are poised to be the biggest beneficiaries of this boom, say experts. A host of domestic players like Pocket Aces, Culture Machine, and The Viral Fever have mushroomed in recent times. 

One reason for their rise is their understanding of Indian viewers’ sensibilities, suggested Jatin Modi, CEO at digital marketing agency FrogIdeas. “These firms took the lead over large, established Indian production houses and portrayed lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders, which are considered taboo. These themes resonated with audiences,” he explained.

Thanks to increasing ease of data access, millennials are at the forefront of these evolving tastes. And original content creators have their ears to the ground. “They are creating personalised content relevant to the viewer’s choice, viewing patterns and geographies. The one who analyses and understands consumers’ content need and stays relevant will ride the next wave of digital content,” said Lulla.

The challenges

Their proven track record notwithstanding, the road ahead for small digital content creators like Supari Studios and others may not be easy, point out experts.

Established movie production houses like AltBalaji and over-the-top platforms like Hotstar, SonyLiv, ZEE5, and Voot are also creating content with backing from broadcasting giants like StarPlus, Sony India, Zee TV and Colors. ZEE5, for instance, delivered the hit web series Karenjit Kaur: The Untold Story of Sunny Leone and Rangbaaz last year.

Indian firms also need to watch out for deep-pocketed global players like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, Modi said.

“International giants in India have been investing in acquiring titles and rights. Many had envisaged the digital ecosystem and the opportunities linked to it early on, hence have an advantage too,” Lulla added.

Gupt is unfazed, though. “We do not see international digital content makers and viewing platforms as competition. Rather players like Amazon and Netflix have opened up more options for a player like us to showcase our content. For Supari Studios, they are like any other distribution platform.” 

Clearly, with imagination and luck, they are preparing for an animated future.