Fremantle India Is Exploring Stories That Challenge the Status Quo (EXCLUSIVE)

Fremantle India Is Exploring Stories That Challenge the Status Quo (EXCLUSIVE)

March 19, 2021

Fremantle India is best known as the home of local versions of Fremantle’s global formats, including “Indian Idol,” “India’s Got Talent,” and “The X Factor India.”

But, the company has been actively telling stories that challenge the status quo. And, having enjoyed success with the approach, it plans to expand the effort.

“That status quo could be gender, caste, creed or color,” Fremantle India managing director Aradhana Bhola told Variety. Pointing to the current season of “Indian Idol,” its 12th, Bhola says that participants are from backgrounds traditionally discriminated against in India including the economically challenged, LGBTQ+, and a talented singer who was ostracized because of her dark skin. In contemporary India, lighter coloured skin is preferred even in many so-called liberal families and communities.

Fremantle India says it makes a point to seek out the marginalized and to empower them by putting them under the national spotlight. “We once had a group on ‘India’s Got Talent’ who were the children of commercial sex workers from Kolkata and they faced discrimination,” says Bhola. “But people were just so amazed to hear their story and to see what they are doing, and they got a lot of support, and made it as finalists on our show, which is great.”

“So they span age, gender, color, socio-economic standing. We’ve had winners like that, who’ve totally broken that mold, which is the brilliance of these shows,” says Bhola. “I think that’s why they resonate with people because they represent modern India. They represent equality. They represent aspiration.”

While the pandemic has been challenging for Fremantle, particularly as unscripted shows in India attract throngs of participants and live audiences had to practice separation and bubbles, there was a blessing in disguise as well, tying in neatly with the company’s inclusivity aspirations.

“We got higher participation in our digital auditions this year for ‘Idol’,” says Bhola. “It also got us far more variety. We always aim for a lot of inclusion of people from all backgrounds. That also increased because people from far smaller parts of India were more part of it than they usually are.”

The quest for the underrepresented is going to be pursued across scripted too, says Bhola. In the scripted space, Fremantle India has produced fiction shows including “Scars Of Life,” “Confrontation,” “Code Red” and “Private Investigator” across different genres, and it has more in the works. “We are obviously amongst the top players when it comes to unscripted, but scripted is what we are now working towards,” says Bhola. “There is some very good stuff that we’ve written.”

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