Streaming "Hotstar Originals"

Curator's Note

In September 2017, Hotstar, a subsidiary of Star India, introduced its streaming service in the U.S. and Canada, primarily targeting linguistically diverse South Asian diasporic communities. On its website, Hotstar publicizes 60,000+ hours of media content in eight languages (Hindi, Bengali, English, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu), culled from the extensive libraries of Star India’s 60+ channels as well as licensing arrangements. It also spotlights live coverage of cricket and cricket-related content. 

Facebook is a key internet location for Hotstar USA's publicity efforts. Their Facebook page showcases clips from television shows, films, and sports content screened on Hotstar. This video promotes an original news comedy, On Air with AIB; the show deals with topics such as HIV/AIDs, drugs, violence, and fake news. This series is an extension of the comedy group All India Bakchod’s immensely popular sketches and parodies on their YouTube channel, which as of January 2018, have accumulated 335 million views and 2.8 million subscribers. The clip opens with chiaroscuro lighting showing outlines of four suited-men; the printed words, “Hotstar Originals” appear alongside. While this opening suggests a crime drama, as the men move into a lit space, All India Bakchod’s members become visible. The male voiceover announces “a Hotstar Original, On Air with AIB, but just watch Quantico with Priyanka Chopra instead.” The references to Quantico (which streams on Netflix), and the popular Bombay film star, Priyanka Chopra, who has forged a successful career in the U.S, and later, the refrain, “tragedy mein comedy, tragedy mein comedy” (“comedy in tragedy, comedy in tragedy”), assume knowledge of U.S. television, Bombay film, and ‘Hinglish’. The final shot invites viewers to sign up for Hotstar, providing details about its current promotion.

Given Hotstar's access to an extensive and growing library of media content, one might ask why would it need to produce original content. In offering this content and using a term recognized by streaming viewers in the U.S., Hotstar aligns itself and its products with Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu “Originals.” While Varun Narang, who currently heads Hotstar, and was a former CEO at Hulu, might have suggested this strategy, it underscores the importance of original content, not only for streaming companies like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, but also for new entrants. “Originals” transform the companies from simple distributors to production brands.


Thank you for this wonderful post, Monika! It is really interesting to think about originals, like On Air with AIB, as production brands that change streaming platform. Does this show highlight local problems in India? If it does, how do the public and government react to its local coverage?

Jülide the show discusses these issues within the social and political contexts of India. While this show has attracted government attention, All India Bakchod's other activities have such as their Modi Meme for which the Mumbai police booked them. Modi supports were also enraged by this. AIB is probably most remembered for and associated with the roast they did with members of the Bombay film industry. The roast was posted on YouTube and went viral. Many viewers thought it was vulgar and obscene others, enjoyed the risque comedy. Police complaints were filed. The Mumbai police itself field a report against the hosts stating they had not gotten a performance license. Amidst these controversies, AIB took down the video. On a more humorous note, a Hotstar ad for AIB features the group coming to Hotstar office and meeting employees who ask them if they'll be doing another 'roast.'

Thanks, Monika, for sharing this video. Having just rewatched the Netflix India promotions for HoC after reading Fan's post, it was interesting to watch this video and consider an opposing vector for global television streaming. Your reading of the video points to the ways that it imagines a specific US audience through the use of Hinglish (and the references to Chopra's star image.) I would love to know more about how Hinglish fits within the linguistic diversity of Hotstar's program. A comparison of Hotstar's eight languages with Netflix's dubbing of Stranger Things into nine languages points to the limitations of Netflix's "global" translation model.

Lisa, the Indian shows in English often mix English and Hindi, which might be the reason that they are subtitled in English. In the context of India, 'Hinglish' is associated with urban, middle-class North India. In the U.S., the use of "Hinglish" enables a colloquial address which would carry some appeal. It also makes the show easier to follow for primarily English speakers; they wouldn't have to read subtitles constantly. You are absolutely Hotstar's eight languages does reveal the limits of Netflix's translation model, which imagines one national language per nation.

I had no idea that AIB has a tie-up with a streaming channel. I am wondering how censorship works with this service, because usually, TV channels censor stuff differently and make additional cuts to suit "Indian sensibility". With AIB in particular, since they are far from politically correct, use fairly explicit language (just their name even is kind of swear-wordy): does Hotstar censor this or does AIB have to create content specifically for Hotstar's audience, as in, do they change some of their templates for an official service, as opposed to Facebook and YouTube videos that the group (AIB) has more control on. Also, is Hulu in India now????

Kuhu, those are all excellent questions. I'll answer the easiest one first, so Hulu is not in India but they hired a CEO who used to work for Hulu. Just more info on this show: It was series that first aired on Hotstar, and then subsequently, Star World and Star Plus, thereby, underscoring that it was specifically made for Hotstar. Subsequently, they've just aired it on Hotstar. The show is apparently shot in Hindi and English. From the shows that I've seen, Hostar US seems to just show the English ones (which of course have Hindi in there). In the English version, they don't seem to be too worried about their language. They even had a show on the Aadhaar card. In the one of the first shows they did repeat a few times that they were on Hotstar, and there's also the humorous commercial which I mentioned in my previous comment where they say they say that they will not be doing a roast even as the employees imagine otherwise. This suggests they did get a brief NOT to do a roast. Of course, there is a disclaimer attached to the show. From my research on film censorship, language was a key mechanism for cutting and certifying films. For example, a film in Hindi would face more cuts than English because its imagined audience was wider, and formed of multiple classes where English films would only be accessed by middle/upper middle classes. I'm not sure if this distinction holds for current films or for television. What are your thoughts on this? I'd be interested in the differences in content for US and India.

TV censorship is entirely random, based on what someone in a channel feels about the risk-potential of content - both language-wise and in plot details. And the cutting can be jarringly arbitrary. I remember, in a few episodes of Friends on Star World, they would just unabashedly cut out same-sex kisses, but not the lines before or after. I knew that it had been cut because I had already seen it on a pirated DVD. Also, one of the Zee channels also showed Friends and they didn't cut it out. Channels apply the same logic with films, but there is a little more discretion now since directors have become very vocal about arbitrary censorship of their movies. Most channels will silence swear-words, particularly in Hindi, but also in English. The most fascinating thing to me is the subtitles that appear on some English channels (subtitles are also in English, presumably for accent differences, and not for disability reasons), and the subtitles are sanitized; so the character may be saying "fuck" and the subtitle will read "oh no" or something like that. Something changed with all the hoopla around The Dirty Picture which received 52 additional cuts before a scheduled telecast but was pulled a few minutes before it was supposed to air. Now, it seems that U/A films are shown or edited by the channels based on their discretion, but 'A' certificate films have to be resubmitted to the CBFC so that they can make additional cuts TO MAKE THE FILM U/A!!!!! I'm sure you can imagine what that would look like.

Kuhu, I imagine with so many channels it's difficult to regulate content--so it's probably, self-regulation and disgruntled viewers calling in. Previously both A and UA had be submitted to the CBFC, interesting that now it's only A. I've also seen curse words spoken in English rendered in more sanitized subtitled English in K-dramas. Interestingly, this is done both by companysubbers and fansubbers. I very curious about the English subtitling for the shows in English. Is this done for all shows in English or just American and British ones? I thought Hotstar subtitling its English shows in English was strange since they were clearly marketing it to South Asians in US and Canada. While I understand that they would have to subtitle the Hindi in those shows, subtitling in English didn't make sense. Do you think that's for accent reasons as well? Have you followed if for the subtitling they use American or British English?

Thank you for this post! This is an interesting question that you pose regarding the production of media content. How vital is it for Hot Star to brand itself as part of diasporic media community? It does seem like Hot Star might fill a void within these media industries. I am curious as to how they brand and differentiate themselves from other traditional forms of media in terms of the content itself.

Thanks so much for this informative thread, from which I learned a great deal! I was particularly intrigued by the question of language. Would you say that the adoption of Hinglish privileges a transnational/urban middle class subject position in such as way as to reinforce a linguistic hierarchy – part of the legacy of colonialism that is also reflected in such practices as accent training at call centers?

Thanks for your questions. Jasmine, Hotstar's CEO's are right now quite explicit in interviews that in the US and Canada they are targeting a diverse South Asian diasporic communities. Hotstar's programming in television and film easily surpasses what is provided by Netflix and Amazon. Moreover, Netflix tends to club all Indian content together while mostly providing content in Hindi. Hotstar pays attention to the linguistic diversity so you have commercial content in 8 languages. It also provides sports content. This is a major attraction for cricket fans. For example, currently, it is screening the Indian Premiere matches live. It's current promotion is also happening at this time. So, its content shows a more nuanced understanding of South Asian diasporic communities. That said, I would be curious to see how this plays out generationally. So, for example, are most of the viewers recent or first generation migrants? Does it have the same appeal for second or third generations? Fan, the 'Hinglish' question is complicated. I can't offer a sociological account, but an account of its presentation in film. Here, there are many types of 'Hinglish'. First, spoken by middle class urban Indians, these define the film as "realistic" since it's a 'colloquial language' and many times, it is also makes the characters comical. Second Hinglish, when spoken by lower class and marginal characters is also comical, and at times, aligned with their life-experiences in cities. Hinglish is not cast as foreign on screen like English. In post-independence Hindi cinema, English was often spoken by upper-class, snooty characters or by villains. The only time it was redeemed was when a Christian priest or nun spoke it. However, if you look at the credits of these films, they are in English to cultivate an upper-class and (middle-class) pan-Indian audiences. That said, I think there have been some shifts in post-economic liberalization representations of English. To answer your question directly, "Hinglish" is home-grown whereas the call centers seek to discipline Indian tongues to speak American English.

Fan and Lisa, You might find this article on the recent success of the film, Hindi Medium, in the Chinese market interesting. The film has broken records of all previous Hindi films released in China. The film narrates the story of a couple trying to get their child into an English medium school.

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