Producer Karnesh Ssharma On The Need For A Female-forward OTT Platform

Karnesh Ssharma
An exclusive OTT platform for Women? Telling stories from a female gaze? How does that sound to you? Clean OTT, the first of its kind female-focused global streaming platform was announced earlier around International Women’s Day. It will launch in early 2023. SheThePeople founder Shaili Chopra caught up with Karnesh Ssharma the man behind the endeavour.

The Indian producer has been part of successful movies like N.H 10, Phillauri, Pari, Paatal Lok and Bulbbul and is brother to Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma. In a chat with SheThePeople, he talks about the need for such an exclusive platform, how women focused content should be more in frequency and quantity, what Clean OTT will offer, exploring with different formats and how his sister has been an inspiration to him. Some edited snippets.

Why do you feel there is a need for an OTT platform that is directly focused on women?

There is nobody who is focusing on telling female stories, in the frequency, in the quantity, which needs to be told. Most of our programmes are male-driven. If you see the data itself, about 230 releases in the last two years where 172-175 of them were male stories. So that does tell you. And the subscription model is almost 50-50 women so that tells you that there are not enough stories for women in that sense of it. I think apart from telling women stories, what we really want to do is have a female gaze, I think that is very important in storytelling.

Most of the time women are playing the pillar of strength to the male or dancing or doing some comedy. I think there’s not enough agency women have in the storytelling process. Not just as actors but as directors, as technicians, in the role of business. So I think the idea was to have a platform that encourages that, which is the first female-forward platform that invites women who are ambitious to tell stories and be storytellers which provides an environment in which they feel safe enough to express themselves creatively. And I think nobody is doing that throughout the world or even talking about it. 

Tell us more about your specific filter, are you looking at people who are directing women, are you looking at it because you know clearly women have been actors and there have been women fronted films now for the last couple of years.

The idea is to have all. Women directors, need not tell stories for women, they could tell whatever stories. You could have stories, most of the stories which are female-forward and female first, you know, female protagonist, the idea is to have a lot of technicians, lot of people in business. So as such there is no one particular filter, but of course, from a storytelling point of view, it should be about the positive representation of women on screen. I think that is very important and for those, we have certain filters about what women are doing in their stories, how they are treated, how they are projected, how they are shot. So all of that, positive representation of women is very important. 

How does one take gender out of many issues that women today face. So I’m just wondering, from a business case point of view, how confident are you that those who are willing to spend money on an all-inclusive OTT platform? Will either add on here as an also or will make the first choice here?

It’s very different from e-commerce or other platforms which are there. I think content is something that appeals to everyone. You know a man will probably not buy nail polish if he wants to right? Or lipstick. He probably doesn’t have the desire or need, some do but some don’t. It’s still focused on selling to women. Content, on the other hand, is about good storytelling. So whether you have a female story, whether it’s good, it would be as appreciated and watched by a man. So I think we are going with that philosophy of telling good stories which would appeal both to men and women. So, the medium of cinema is such that it can cut across barriers and if it is a good story it would be watched by men, women, children and older people.

What is the reason for you to think of it now? Was this coming sometime and clearly what inspired you? Was it your sister? 

Yes. Why not? Of course. It is because of her that I am here. In the sense, she was kind of the one who persuaded me to get into the aspects of filmmaking. So yes, I think she’s been a big inspiration. As far as right now, I think this was something which we have been planning for almost the last 14 to 16 months and the preparation of it was happening when Covid just hit. That’s the time we started talking about it, we started ideating it and we started formulating it as to how we would go about it. So it has taken us about 14 to 16 months to be here. So we’ve thought about it, we have got structures in place, we have got people in place and we have got the content in place. I think we were ready with all the aspects of it. 

 Karnesh Ssharma And Anushka Sharma

Karnesh Ssharma And Anushka Sharma

When you say you’ve got the content ready, give us a sense of the content that we should expect?

I think you should expect ambitious content, that’s what we tried to do as a production house. We tried to challenge ourselves and limit the boundaries so, you should expect all kinds of content, content which is ambitious, Contents of different genres, whether it is horror which is something personally I am really kicked about. I think we don’t do good horrors in our country, a lot of documentaries, lot of docuseries, which we want to focus on. There is a big market for that now and content that has something new to say, which will challenge what we expect from the content of our country. 

I think what Covid has done is made us preview content from across the world. So our expectation of content has gotten better and more challenging for filmmakers. 

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Today everybody is talking about going shorter and shorter on content. For example, with 1 million followers on Instagram, we still struggle sometimes to gather the attention of people. So how do you see the demand for snackable content at one level and The kind of OTT experiment you are intending to do? For example, are you bridging some stuff, like are you looking at 5-minute films and let’s say, 15-minute films and so on.

Not right now. Right now we want to stick to our strength of telling long-format stories. I think there is enough user base out there to cater to. Right now we will focus on telling long-format stories whether is films or series. Going forward we would definitely like to play with content that is short. That is one aspect of content that is upskilling and that’s something going forward we want to introduce, how can we upskill women who are on our platform or how can we upskill people who come to the platform. Going forward, you would hear more about it, like I told it took us 14 months to here, it will take you a few more months for us to tell you exactly what it is, but the upskilling aspect of it is very clear. 

Do you think this is not just an entertainment story, this is an infotainment story? 

Content for me is not just about entertainment, it is also about enlightenment and enrichment. So for us, it is providing all aspects of entertainment, enlightening to entertain and enjoy. It’s up to you, we would like to offer you everything. 


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