Bollywood Star Akshay Kumar to Topline Amazon India Series

Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke with Akshay Kumar in Mumbai.

The show, with the working title 'The End,' marks the actor's digital debut as the streaming video giant aggressively expands its local slate to take on Netflix and Fox's Hotstar, among other competitors.

One of India's most bankable stars, Akshay Kumar, will topline Amazon's upcoming original series, with the working title The End.

This not only marks Kumar's digital debut, but also reflects Amazon's intent to aggressively expand its local slate by associating with top Bollywood talent as it battles Netflix, Fox's Hotstar and other platforms backed by entertainment giants, such as Viacom's Voot and Sony's SonyLiv, among others.

The show was unveiled Tuesday at an event in Mumbai that Kumar attended along with Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke, Amazon Prime Video head of international originals James Farrell and Amazon India director and content head Vijay Subramaniam.

Salke made a splash at Sundance as Amazon purchased five films, including Late Night, Brittany Runs a Marathon and The Report, and spent $47 million, a record for a single company at the Park City festival. Her first visit to India to unveil the Kumar show, for which a budget was not given, underlines the video giant's bid to expand its market share in India's exploding digital market.

The show is produced by Abundantia Entertainment, which was also behind Amazon's second Indian original, Breathe, which launched on the streamer last year. Abundantia CEO Vikram Malhotra was also present at the show's launch.

While a release date and plot details were not given, The End is described as an action thriller. Salke said that the scale at which the show is being conceived "is enormous and speaks of our passion for creating breakout programming across genres. The storyline and the action sequences have been brilliantly crafted to give viewers a thrilling experience. Our goal is to make Amazon Prime Video the powerhouse of talent, in front as well as behind the camera, and we are thrilled to have Akshay Kumar and Abundantia Entertainment anchoring the show for us."

"I can’t wait to start rolling for this action adventure series that will be an Amazon Original for global audiences," said Kumar. He added: "The digital world excited me and I am delighted to make my streaming debut with this show."

At the show's launch, Kumar made a dramatic entry onstage, literally on fire, which led Salke to later tweet, "This man is on fire." In a three-decade career, Kumar, who first made his name as an action star, has delivered some of Bollywood's biggest hits with recent credits, including Sony Pictures India's PadMan and Viacom18 Motion Pictures' Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.

Amazon already has no fewer than 30 Indian originals in different stages of production after the streamer debuted its first original cricket drama, Inside Edge. The upcoming second season of Breathe will be toplined by Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan. The company has also licensed or produced content in six of India's 23 main regional languages.

Netflix's debut Indian original Sacred Games also starred Bollywood talent such as lead actors Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The critically acclaimed series was helmed by well-known directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, who are also directing the upcoming second season.

Hotstar has also unveiled plans to get into originals, which will be created by such leading names as Bollywood star Salman Khan, directors Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and Kabir Khan (Bajrangi Bhaijaan) and others.

While Amazon is more competitively priced than Netflix, it still trails in market share in the subscription VOD market in India. Amazon charges $1.90 a month, or $14.50 for a year, compared with Netflix, which offers its cheapest monthly plan for $6.90, while Hotstar charges roughly $3 a month for its premium service. According to Media Partners Asia, India's SVOD market sees Netflix leading with a 45 percent share, followed by Hotstar at 27 percent and Amazon Prime Video coming in third at 20 percent.

The battle between the streamers has unleashed a gold rush for content as competitors scramble to gain digital dominance in an online video market estimated to reach 550 million users — roughly 67 percent larger than the entire population of the U.S. — by 2023.