'When you are crafting a story, it's always important to see how authentic that story is because if it is authentic and rooted, it will stand the test of time.'
"It is all about instinct and knowing whether a story is authentic and rooted so it can stand the test of time," says Aparna Purohit, head of India Originals at Amazon Prime Video, and a key person behind shows such as Made in Heaven, Paatal Lok and Mirzapur.
"It is important to have a wide array of characters that can appeal to audiences across the length and breadth of the country," Purohit says ahead of the release of the second season of Mirzapur that takes forward the gritty story of mafia, murder and mayhem in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. The second season began streaming on Friday.
"Instinct matters a lot, your gut feeling about the story and the characters and what they are trying to say. The effort is always to create characters that will outlast you. These characters, whether it is Tara from Made in Heaven, the women of the Four More Shots or Hathiram from Paatal Lok. I feel these characters will remain here," Purohit tells PTI in an interview.
She cites the immortality of Satyajit Ray's movies to stress the importance of looking for authentic stories.
"When you are crafting a story, it's always important to see how authentic that story is because if it is authentic and rooted, it will stand the test of time, like stories created by Ray some 50 years ago still speak to us. Amazon is a data driven company, but we marry that with our instinct and the passion of the film-makers," she adds.
Purohit recalls how watching the video of a wedding on director Zoya Akhtar's phone eventually led to Made in Heaven, a series that explores the lives of the rich and famous through the eyes of two wedding planners.
"She started telling me little stories about each of those people in the video. I was fascinated. She said that's the show that she wants to make and I said let's make it."
Similarly, when Sudip Sharma told Purohit the story of Paatal Lok, about a jaded police officer in Delhi and the many intersecting worlds he unravels while solving a crime, it felt like a "little window into the different Indias that exist in our country."
The characters of Four More Shots Please!, the Rangita Nandy-created Amazon hit about the friendship between four career women of different backgrounds, felt relatable, she says.
"What was also exciting was that it's a show that has been created by women. The main protagonists are women. It was shot by women, edited by women, the production designer, the costume designers, so it was amazing to see such strong female energy."
According to Purohit, the shows have helped raise the level of storytelling in India.
"And that has helped the entire creative community, not just actors, the writers, the composers... Everyone wants to be a part of this new sort of revolution that's happening."
Purohit did her post graduation in mass communication from Jamia Millia Islamia, and worked at UTV Motion Pictures and NFDC's Film Bazaar before joining Prime Video as the head of creative development in 2016. She became the head of India Originals in April last year.
There was a time when creators had some trepidation about creating content for the streaming platform but now storytellers want to explore the medium, says Purohit.
She believes the long format allows one to explore the complexities and nuances of a story that is sometimes not possible in a feature film.
"I think it's a great time for the entire artistic community, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. I, in fact, call it a renaissance of media and entertainment in India where all kinds of stories are being told, all kinds of genres are being explored," says Purohit.
One such project is Bollywood star Akshay Kumar's streaming debut on Amazon with action thriller series The End, which is currently in the scripting phase.
Asked whether there is a danger of celebrities eventually dominating the medium that has created actor-stars, Purohit said casting should depend on the story not vice-versa.
"We are chasing good stories and storytellers. We will do whatever it takes to help them translate that story in the most beautiful way on the screen. Now whether that requires a big A-list star or it requires us to go and find the new gems, we always remain true to the story," she says.
Creating content for a diverse country like India comes with its unique set of rewards and challenges but for Purohit it presents an opportunity to explore different content.
"Amazon is currently in 4,000 cities and towns in India. So we aren't programming for one sector. We are actually programming for an audience sitting in say Kashmir, and an audience sitting in Chennai and somebody's sitting in Jodhpur or Kolkata while also trying to ensure that there is something for a child and there's something for a parent," she says.
The challenging part is the time that projects take in development and balancing that with audiences' expectations.
"We spend a lot of time in the writers' room, that's a time consuming process. Till the scripts are robust, we are not in a hurry. Sometimes when you put out a show, the audiences want season two almost immediately and magically. But it's a good challenge to have," she adds.
The future, according to Purohit, is bright with all kinds of stories in different stages of development.
"We want to create a safe space for our storytellers where they can tell all kinds of stories in the most unrestrained fashion. Diversity and inclusion are the very fabric of the company," she says.
"As a woman, looking at the content, I have a great sense of responsibility about the representation of different genders and other marginalised sections of the society. We try and ensure there is a wide representation of all sections in our shows."