The last 19 months of the pandemic have been some of the most difficult of our lives. We all spent more time isolated in our homes than ever before. But we found a universal connection in the remarkable stories we watched. The world rooted for their favourite characters and was transported to a reimagined Regency England, a college campus in Jaipur, the Louvre in Paris, a 1960s chess tournament in Moscow, a karate dojo in Los Angeles and a bank in Spain with people wearing Dali masks.
Stories have always been a source of comfort, joy and community for people around the world. Today the screen reminds us that great stories have the enduring power to unite, inspire and entertain. Storytelling goes to the heart of what it means to be human. When we watch stories, we forge new connections and build a deeper understanding of the world, making us all feel more connected. We have the responsibility of providing choice and control to our members, especially parents, so they can decide what their children watch.
India is home to the finest traditions of storytelling. Home to one of the world’s most vibrant entertainment industries, India is remarkably well placed to lead in the era of internet entertainment. Brilliant creators and talent, spread across the country and united in their love for storytelling, are creating shows and films that can be watched by Indians on hundreds of millions of screens, be it a TV or smartphone.
Earlier this year, we joined hands with UNESCO to celebrate India’s rich cultural heritage through the family favourite animation, Mighty Little Bheem. India has the vision and talent to export its best stories; and with our subtitles and dubs in over 30 languages, more people can now discover even more Indian stories and culture — wherever they live.
It’s a huge privilege to be a part of the creative community in India. We’ve licensed hundreds of Indian films and shows for our members and invested in over 100 Netflix originals, almost all of which have been commissioned by Indian executives who live locally, know the culture and speak the language. It’s testament to India’s breadth of storytelling that these originals have been filmed in over 25 cities and towns across the country, from Lucknow to Lonavla, Mumbai to Madurai, Gulmarg to Goa, Kolkata to Kochi.
As a part of the growing creative community in India, we understand that telling stories that are made in India and can be watched by the world is a collective experience. These successful stories are born of partnerships with brilliant Indian creators, directors, writers, actors and crew. Our commitment to India is strong and growing. We want to deepen our partnership with Indian creators as they reinvent genres, stretch boundaries, and inspire new ideas. In the last year, we have supported multiple production workshops, and editing courses with the New York Film Academy. We will continue to build and nurture the next generation of creative talent — whether young animators in partnership with GOBELINS L’école de L’image, one of the world’s finest animation schools, or entirely new talent through BAFTA Breakthrough India, an initiative to find 10 new voices across the country.
Inclusion in storytelling is important to us and we are proud that more than half of our films and series in India feature women in central roles. Since last year, we’ve worked with more than one thousand women creators, talent, and crew on and off the screen in India.
The popularity of Indian stories means that the entertainment industry is an important economic driver for India too. It’s why we work so hard to find stories from across India, supporting our creative partners in bringing their visions to life.
Last year when the pandemic hit, we stood with the creative community and committed $150 million to support the hardest hit workers on our own productions globally — carpenters, electricians, hair and make-up artists. We also helped the broader film and television industry through the creation of over 20 hardship funds in partnership with organisations from around the world, including the Producers Guild of India. It was inspiring to see the creative community of Tamil cinema come together for the nine-film anthology Navarasa, sending a message of resilience and solidarity during these tough times that echoed far and wide.
Working together is how we will usher in a new golden age of creativity in India, from India and by India, but that can be enjoyed all around the world.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 23, 2021 under the title ‘The power of storytelling’. The writer is founder and Co-CEO of Netflix