Welcome to Global Breakouts, Deadline’s fortnightly strand in which we shine a spotlight on the TV shows and films killing it in their local territories. The industry is as globalized as it’s ever been, but breakout hits are appearing in pockets of the world all the time and it can be hard to keep track. So we’re going to do the hard work for you.
Our second Breakout features Taaza Khabar, an Indian streaming series about a man who learns to predict the future. It has been Disney+ Hotstar’s biggest new hit of 2023.
Name: Taaza Khabar
Streamer: Disney+ Hotstar
Producer: BB Ki Vines Productions
Where you can watch: Hulu
For fans of: The Invention of Lying, Salaam Bombay!, Slumdog Millionaire
RRR‘s historic Oscars push cemented the growing impact Indian content is having on global audiences, but the action thriller isn’t the only title from the country that’s pushing boundaries. With one of the most competitive streaming markets in the world, India and its streamers have revolutionized its scripted series and Taaza Khabar is the latest example.
The Disney+ Hotstar comedy-fantasy-thriller-drama mashup, about a lowly sanitation worker who discovers he can predict the future, has been riding high since its launch on India’s leading streaming platform on January 6. The title means literally “fresh news” — the man’s ability to see things before they happen being central to the story. Reviews in India were mixed, but data from Parrot Analytics shows Taaza Khabar was immediately one of the most popular Indian shows in the U.S., where it’s available on Hulu. The makers say it invokes the supernatural mechanism of Ricky Gervais feature The Invention of Lying and the rags-to-riches sentiment of Slumdog Millionaire.
In its home country, the Hindi-language series attracted young audiences — no surprise considering it is made by and stars Bhuvan Bam, whose YouTube channel, BB Ki Vines, is one of the most popular domestically with 26 million subscribers. His mantra is simple. “We want to create stories to tell people and keep the creative control as much as we can,” he tells Deadline. As such, BB Ki Vines Productions, which the studio Bam and Taaza Khabar co-creator Rohit Raj set up to forge their YouTube productions, is lead producer on the show.
The series is based on a one-pager from Abbas and Hussain Dalal, who co-wrote Bam’s eight-part social media comedy Dhindora, and was initially planned as a feature film. Bam says the idea came from the Dalals’ father and was a step into the unknown for him, being more dramatic than his background in comedic sketches and shows. “I’ve been in comedy for six or seven years and it was a big step for me to go from that to drama, but I knew I had to do this. The one-pager was so unique that I decided it had to be my debut OTT project.”
In the show, Bam plays Vasant ‘Vasya’ Gawade, a classic Mumbai slum dog character, whose only respite, Madhu, is a sex worker. However, Vasya is given the power to see the news before it happens. He starts turning around his luck and building his fortune: first selling a vintage vase, then helping a contestant win a game show and then betting on the outcome of a cricket tournament. However, his success arouses the suspicions of police and begins to change his personality for the worse.
The series ruminates on the nature of luck, with Vasya at one point questioning: “Is this a rain of good fortune or is fate taking a piss on me?” It ends of a major cliffhanger and Bam is already discussing ideas for a second run with his team.
Mahesh Manjrekar, Shriya Pilgaonkar, J.D. Chakravarthy and Deven Bhojani are among the other stars.
Himank Gaur, another Dhindora alumni, is attached as director. He was also drawn to the script’s underdog story and setting. “This connected with me because I have lived in the tier two and three areas of Mumbai you see in the show,” he says. “I knew we had to keep the actors, costumes, accent and setting very real because we were getting into fantasy and you can easily overdo it. Everything in the show has to be very authentic.”
BB Ki Vines worked with Saurabh Lokhande and Jarvis Menezes to make music a central pillar of the show, combining modern genres such as Indian rap with 1980s Bollywood beats. “We knew the music had to be an accumulation of all sorts of genres,” says Bam. “In India, if the music is right, the show immediately becomes appealing to the people.”
‘Our show needed to look rich’
Getting the music, tone, color palette, design and costume right will have amounted to a reasonable investment for Disney+ Hotstar and Gaur says the streamer made for the right partner. “To be honest, I never knew what the budget was and even today I don’t know,” he says. “I just asked and they made it happen, or found alternatives, which just goes to show how much they want to put out good product.
“In the past 20 years in India, there have been a handful of shows that were good but in terms of [cinematographic] quality were not up there in the way Game of Thrones or Succession are. We needed that cinematic look and were only able to do it thanks to OTT.”
“When Netflix and the other streamers came to India, we were suddenly watching Sacred Games and Criminal Justice,” adds Bam. “I realized if we wanted to get out of YouTube production, our shows had to look this rich. Otherwise the contrast would be too big and it would look like a YouTube sketch.”
Bam notes how new Indian titles are gaining more popularity globally because they have begun to better reflect the many different realities of Indian life better, in the same way that’s been happening in South Korea. “I always feel Squid Game is the world’s biggest show because they never felt ashamed of the culture – a no-shits-given attitude,” he says. “That’s why people in the West love those shows. Our show and RRR have that same approach.
“We are telling our stories of India and not trying to copy the West. This is a very Indian story but if subtitled well it can travel very well. My cousin who lives in Seattle watched it on Hulu. He made his campus watch a screening and they loved it. With the help of the internet, Indian content is making an impact.”
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