A game-changer in India’s entertainment industry, Monika Shergill is a force to be reckoned with today as Vice President of Content at Netflix India. In a candid chat, we discover all that drove her to make such rapid strides in OTT, her love for storytelling and the future she envisions for both Netflix and the industry…
HELLO!: As Vice President of Content for Netflix India, you’ve been credited with bringing diversity to the platform. Did you encounter any kind of resistance initially?
Monika Shergill: “We’ve always believed that better diversity leads to greater storytelling, which is why we not only embrace bringing in diverse voices but actively encourage it. Diversity behind the camera encourages stories that reflect many more lives on camera, and that resonates with audiences.”
H!: Describe yourself in five words or more.
MS: “Tenacious, strategic, creative, curious, warm, and sometimes, impatient!”
H!: Given that you’re Meerut-born and Delhi-bred, is that why small-town India finds so much resonance in your shows?
MC: “My upbringing is the foundation for everything in my life, but the small-town resonance in our shows is more because we believe in diversity and representation — be it in original writing voices, acting talent or genres. There are a multitude of interesting stories in every corner of India and a rich plethora of talent. We want to bring as many of those stories as possible to our audiences.”
H!: You played varied roles in television before you joined Netflix. What made you shift to the digital space?
MS: “From being an environmental journalist to joining Netflix, the driving force has always been my love for great storytelling and how it gives us a sense of belonging. Streaming has pushed the boundaries of entertainment, and I really enjoy the entire process of working with passionate creators and finding new voices that can tell the next big story. I was fortunate to move to this new medium that takes stories to any part of the world. It’s thrilling that streaming has made the world a cultural melting pot, where people sitting in any part of the world can now dance to ‘Naatu Naatu,’ or dress up like Gangubai, or enjoy an Indian, Spanish, or Korean story in one click.”
H!: Tell us about working on Living on the Edge, which bagged a ‘Green Oscar,’ the prestigious Whitley Award.
MS: “Reporting for Living on the Edge was a profound and rewarding experience, as well as humbling and inspiring. It was an overwhelming sense of pride and gratitude to be part of such a meaningful series and travelling the length and breadth of the country to report on cotton farmer suicides, endangered species, malnutrition, industrial pollution and the value of indigenous communities.”
H!: Did you ever envisage that Netflix would become this popular in India?
MS: “Indian audiences have always been big fans of great stories. When Netflix entered India, we had the ambition of super serving our audiences — firstly, by collaborating with India’s remarkable pool of creative talent, and secondly, by giving audiences access to our programming from around the world. This way, our viewers would always have something to watch no matter what mood they’re in and what language they speak.It’s been an adventure to build a great team to deliver growth in India. We’ve focused on understanding our audience’s tastes and partnering with incredible storytellers. In return, we’ve been thrilled to see the huge receptions from viewers for our original films and dramas — such as Darlings, Monica, O My Darling, Mission Majnu, Khakee, Trial by Fire and Scoop — and enjoying people’s reaction to global hits like Stranger Things and Money Heist, which were widely enjoyed in India in English, Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.”
H!: Could you share a few highlights of the year so far?
MS: “There are many things I enjoy in relation to bringing a film or drama to audiences. One of the best moments of the year, so far, was when The Elephant Whisperers created history by becoming the first Indian production to win an Oscar! It was such an honour for us to collaborate with Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga, to tell this beautiful story of nature and nurture. Additionally, being the platform that took Rajamouli’s Telugu epic film RRR to the world and then to the Oscar stage was a big high. OTT channels have shown that content is king and given opportunities to smaller stars to prove themselves.
H!: Is the era of the A-listers coming to an end?
MS: “Streaming has provided a level playing field for talent and creators across the board to tell exceptional stories. Telling a great story is not about stardom, but the most deserving and well-suited actor for the role collaborating with a visionary creator. We’ve recently seen some remarkable performances from a range of exceptional talent — from debutant actors in Class to Karishma Tanna in Scoop, as well as superstars like Rana Daggubati and Venkatesh Daggubati, who put on quite a show in Rana Naidu.”
H!: Are there any trends in OTT you foresee?
MS: “As more audiences get exposed to stories from across the globe, their taste is evolving and the appetite for experimentation is growing. High-quality subs and dubs on Netflix are now taking more stories to wider audiences; more South Indian language cinema is also being consumed in Hindi dubs and subs. Fiction narratives inspired from true events are a high watch space and will become more popular in India as we programme more. And as Indians, we love music as part of our storytelling experience, and the recent breakout albums of Mismatched, Class and films like Monica, O My Darling and upcoming The Archies will deliver an exceptional musical experience along with great storytelling.”
H!: What are your current favourite shows?
MS: “My current favourite is Scoop. I also recently watched the British Series The Diplomat, which was brilliant, and I really enjoyed Ali Wong’s performance in Beef. I’m currently watching the docuseries, Arnold, which chronicles Arnold Schwarzenegger’s remarkable life.”
H!: Outside of work, what are your interests?
MS: “I like listening to TED Talks and podcasts on different subjects. I also enjoy going for nature walks, meditation and watching movies.”
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the July 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!