Explainer-style news videos, a talk show, sketch comedy, social activism, talent management… Mumbai-based content company, Bhartiya Digital Party (BhaDiPa) does it all. Co-founder Sarang Sathaye explains that since BhaDiPa was formed to try and fill a massive gap in the Indian digital market—clever, creative content for the country’s Marathi-speaking audience—they decided not to restrict themselves to a single format. As a result, BhaDiPa has given the Internet gems like Casting Couch with Amey & Nipun, the Aai and Aaplya Bapachi series, while breathing fresh life into time-honoured traditions of Marathi comedy and navigating the news business with honesty and responsibility. Here’s how it all began.
A Stroke of Serendipity
Sathaye met his co-founders, national award winning-filmmaker Anusha Nandakumar and Paula McGlynn, on a film set a few years ago. Quickly, they realised they shared the same vision for homegrown content—”we were watching shows like Breaking Bad, Sopranos at the time, and there was nothing like that being made locally”—and of a happy place to work. “The three of us didn’t like the way the industry functioned, the energy on film sets, so we wanted to start a company that we felt like going to everyday,” Sathaye says. Most importantly? In an English and Hindi-dominated digital entertainment space, regional languages were not getting the attention they deserved. So the three of them started a company called Gulbadan Talkies, whose first success came with a digital campaign for India’s favourite biscuit brand, ParleG—Shayar Kehta Hai—that went viral.
Just as branded work started pouring in, the co-founders made an important decision; they decided to hold out and, instead, focus on what they had originally set out to do—tell compelling stories without the pressure of investors or clients. It was around this time that Telugu had become the second most popular language after English on YouTube, Sathaye reveals. And something clicked for Paula. “She said that while Canada’s population is only 30 million, there are 75 million Maharashtrians in India with nothing to watch on the Internet.” A Eureka moment.
“There are 75 million Maharashtrians in India with nothing to watch on the Internet.” A Eureka moment.
“That’s when we came up with the concept of BhaDiPa or self-produced Marathi content, marketed under a name that we believed in, backed by proof of viewership and numbers.” They decided to make a big splash with an original talk show format, Casting Couch with Amey and Nipun, shot the pilot and then looked for a channel to release it. “While everyone was thrilled by it, no one wanted to put it up or take the risk of getting into Marathi digital content,” Sathaye shares. So, they did it themselves. “We did our research, signed up for YouTube training and then decided to come up with a name for the channel.” ‘BhaDiPa’ checked off all their requirements—a name that has a national identity, can be turned into a Devanagari hashtag and be abbreviated for maximum stickiness.
Today, three years later, with 191,000 followers on Instagram, 636,000 YouTube subscribers and about the same number of Facebook followers, these new-age Marathi content creators have tapped into a significant market opportunity making them an Internet force to be reckoned with.
Counting off the shows and performers that left an impact on Sathaye and shaped BhaDiPa’s style and voice, he says, “I think it was the best time for Marathi television while I was growing up, with shows like Prapanch. Of course, Pula Deshpande is a big influence in every Maharashtrian household and I also grew up listening to his cassettes. Sathaye also believes that DD’s programming, shows like Waghale ki Duniya and Fauji, was ahead of its time. “I wish we had shows like that right now,” the 37-year-old reminisces.
However, it’s the founders’ varied influences (and their seamless coming-together) that gives BhaDiPa’s content a slick edge. “As the youngest of us three, Paula grew up consuming YouTube and witnessed things like the Pewdiepie breakout which we had not seen.” Sathaye continues, “As soon as she came into our life, we got introduced to so much digital content that it changed our perspective completely.”
Secret Marathi Standup
The only thing missing was comedy, which BhaDiPa turned its attention to in 2017, comedian and long-time BhaDiPa collaborator Aditya Desai says. Today, their popular live property, Secret Marathi Standup just goes by Marathi Standup but its beginning can be traced back to a private show that Desai did for BhaDiPa’s technical crew at Sarang and Paula’s home. “Whatever material I had in English, I did it in Marathi, sort of a note to note translation but with references that would be relatable to a Maharashtrian audience.” Encouraged by the response to this impromptu gig, Desai took this show to Sitara Studios where he performed at a live Casting Couch taping.
A few months later, BhaDiPa released a short four-minute clip of Desai’s performance on their YouTube channel with a footnote that said “If you’re interested in Marathi standup, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.” That led to a lot of interest from upcoming comedians, so Desai organised jam sessions in Mumbai where they could all bounce ideas off each other. A few months later, the company put out the first line-up for a Secret Marathi Standup and the show sold out. Two years on, Desai says, the Marathi comedy scene is thriving; from an initial roster of about eight artists, BhaDiPa manages 20 Marathi standup comics today.
“The very first episode of Casting Couch, Aai Privacy and Me, Shravan Nalgirkar’s standup clip and the release of Pandu (BhaDiPa’s first web series now streaming on MX Player),” Sathaye counts off the most memorable moments over the last three years’ as BhaDiPa enters a new phase of content creation—long form. And, with the Marathi-speaking audience in India now standing strong at 85 million, we can expect more viral videos, more standup gigs, interesting news formats and rich storytelling from the company that was the first to realise that the future of digital content is regional.