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Exclusive! Producer Shobu Yarlagadda: Parampara pushes the bar higher in the Telugu OTT space with its filmmaking

As his production house Arka Mediaworks ventures into the Telugu OTT space with Parampara on Disney+ Hotstar, Shobu Yarlagdda talks about life after Baahubali, his understanding of the digital space and trends unique to the OTT industry

  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 10.22 AM, Dec 21, 2021

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Exclusive! Producer Shobu Yarlagadda: Parampara pushes the bar higher in the Telugu OTT space with its filmmaking

In an entertainment industry that's witness to fluctuating fortunes and extremes week after week, it doesn't take much time for success to get into your head and failure to crumble you internally. It takes a calm head, a well-devised strategy, a strong team, a capable leader to get audiences to watch what you make. 

Shobu Yarlagadda, the brain behind Arka Mediaworks, has been quite careful and guarded about his choices even after a blockbuster as big as the Baahubali franchise. What explains his restraint and composure? We, at OTTplay.com, ask him ahead of the first OTT release of Arka Mediaworks, Parampara, on Disney+ Hotstar this weekend. 

Handling a success of 'Baahubalian' proportions isn't easy. As a production house, you've been picky with your projects despite scoring the two biggest blockbusters of Indian cinema...

Before or after Baahubali, we at Arka Mediaworks have always been very choosy about the content we invested in. Apart from films like Maryada Ramanna, Vedam or Panjaa, we were not quite a prolific filmmaking company as such. We started as a television production house and continue to produce shows for the small screen regularly. Post the mega success of Baahubali, we were particular about associating with projects whose content we resonated with. 

We were part of Venkatesh Maha's Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya, which couldn't hit theatres owing to COVID and was released directly on Netflix. The Baahubali web series for Netflix was our first show on OTT, but we had to revisit it because of a few reasons. It is yet to go into production. We've associated with multiple streaming platforms for our content - Parampara with Disney+ Hotstar and Anya's Tutorial on aha. Anya's Tutorial is almost complete. Several projects are under development for multiple streaming platforms but have not been finalised yet. We're working on the scripts.

Wouldn't it have been easier to sign a flurry of high-profile projects with the biggest of names after Baahubali? How did you resist that temptation?

Honestly, we weren't tempted by that prospect. It would've been easy to commit to big projects. However, we had to make a conscious choice between signing a series of projects and enjoying the success of Baahubali, waiting to see what the audience wants in the market. We took a step back and returned in a year or two with projects that we truly connected with. 

The film, besides its story, has emerged as a great case study of sorts on how pan-India films need to be aggressively marketed...

Baahubali was a pioneering effort, that went beyond the regional context. It has given a lot of hope for several films to aim big while reaching out to audiences. KGF has been a great success story and so is Pushpa, despite not being massively promoted in other languages. From KGF 2 to RRR, the anticipation is huge and people have begun to refer to such films as Indian cinema instead of regional films. Baahubali certainly created a path for many such films. A key reason for it has especially been marketing, partnerships with the right people, platforms in multiple industries. Many pan-Indian films are trying to emulate that and take it to the next level.

The shelf-life of the film across various forms is breathtaking...From VR to books to merchandise to an Android game and a web series next, there's no escaping it wherever we go...

Every film might not have that depth or kind of potential, but Baahubali is an extremely enriching world, built brick by brick, where each character is so strong and offers itself to so many forms of storytelling. That's what we've exploited to its fullest potential.

Was Arka's transition towards the OTT medium seamless, given its experience with the television industry?

Oh, it was altogether a different experience. It's been a big learning curve, understanding the needs of the OTT industry, developing content for platforms and handling the production as well. In terms of writing, execution, production, the industries are poles apart. But, we're learning and evolving in the process. 

You'd once famously compared the filmmaking process to running a startup. It's understandable on paper, but does that approach work practically?

When you are running a business, you set up certain systems and processes to produce results. Year on year, you give a push to the company through marketing, grow in a linear manner but you're not rethinking about starting the entire business again. In contrast with the entertainment industry, even if we've managed a Baahubali, we're back with a new idea and a story that should excite audiences again. 

It becomes a new film that has to find its audience besides having to be marketed in a specific way. Different films have different marketing approaches. It comes back to starting the cycle all over again. So, every project that you do is like a new startup. In normal businesses, you don't have to restart the process all over again with every year or project. 

What excites you about Parampara? What do you think is its USP?

In terms of the story, Parampara is a family drama that suits well for the OTT space. With the casting and production values, especially for a Telugu show, we have pushed the bar higher with the show. I hope we've pushed the boundaries of filmmaking in the Telugu OTT space with this one.

Parampara marks your first association with a global brand like Disney+ Hotstar...

It's going to be big and this has been a two-year journey with the platform. It took us quite a bit of time to come up with the story, script and I must say that Hotstar has played an inclusive role in developing it. COVID-19 played havoc with our shoot schedules, causing considerable delay. Disney+ Hotstar will be launching their Telugu originals with Parampara. I'm sure it'll have the audience excited. Disney+ Hotstar is a platform that has a strong presence in the television side with Star Maa and they too come with considerable experience of knowing the tastes of Telugu audiences.

Is the Telugu OTT market still at its nascent stages?

It's just the beginning of the OTT journey in Telugu. It has grown well over the last year and a half, but we'll be growing bigger with national and international players focusing on the Telugu market. I'm hoping that there will be an escalation in the budgets and the quality of the content we make.

What does the presence of an industry insider like Allu Aravind (in aha) mean to the OTT space? What do you think he brings to the table?

Somebody with that experience and the understanding of content is going to be a huge boost for the industry. As a person, he's very young at heart, adaptive and open to ideas, technologies. The very fact that he's trying his hand in OTTs shows how well he has upgraded himself with the times. It's a marriage of great experience and an open mind. The progress has certainly reflected in the way the Telugu market has opened up besides aha's growth as an OTT platform. He's really given a platform for Telugu talent to shine in all aspects.

How is the OTT adaptation of Manu Pillai's The Ivory of Throne shaping up?

We're working on it and have recently tied up with a major OTT platform for the adaptation. It's a little too early to disclose the details yet, but you'll hear an announcement about it soon.

(Parampara, starring Naveen Chandra, Sarathkumar, Jagapathi Babu, streams on Disney+ Hotstar on December 24)

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