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Three bankers seek to break Bollywood cliches with a $15 million war chest

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A tiny digital studio is making a name for itself in the world’s most prolific movie industry, scoring funding from a marquee Silicon Valley investor right after nailing a deal to stream its most popular show on


Pocket Aces Pvt has raised $14.7 million from Sequoia Capital, DSP Group, 3one4 Capital and others to bankroll content aimed at pushing Indian shows beyond hackneyed Bollywood formulas — like “saas-bahu” or mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law dramas. It’s one of a band of startups moving away from familiar staples to try and hook an exploding population of mobile viewers. Pocket Aces plans to use the funds to get into gaming content, make strategic acquisitions and boost production to 30 shows a year from the current dozen.


India has become a battleground for global streaming giants from Inc. to Amazon.com Inc. and Walt Disney Co.-owned They’re drawn by a market that could hit 829 million smartphone users by 2022, compared with about half a billion now, according to Cisco Systems Inc. estimates, many of them first-time Internet users consuming entertainment via their mobiles.


Last week, raised the stakes, announcing one of the world’s cheapest streaming subscriptions: an under-$3 monthly mobile-only plan for India. On Monday, two of its leading homegrown streaming rivals — ALTBalaji and ZEE5 — announced they were joining hands to create more than 60 original shows, share audience insights and grow subscriptions.


The Mumbai-based, 145-person Pocket Aces uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to test genres, actors and plot lines in pilots before spinning them into longer shows for streaming platforms, social media channels and its own apps. “Our shows garner 500 million views per month and we aim to hit 1 billion monthly views by 2020,” said co-founder Aditi Shrivastava.


The business was conceived out of dorm-room conversations between co-founders Anirudh Pandita, 34, and Ashwin Suresh, 35. From engineering undergraduates at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the pair went on to work on Wall Street before starting their company in 2014. They were joined later by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alum Shrivastava, now married to Suresh. Pocket Aces’ first show was launched in 2015.


Unlike studios tied to traditional distribution channels, Pocket Aces focuses on mobile consumers and syndicates content to a variety of companies, from Emirates Airline to ride-hailing service Ola and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s video-streaming service Youku Tudou. It has several originals lined up for Amazon and in India and recently signed a global deal to create several shows for Netflix. It’s negotiating with multiple Hollywood production companies to create content. The firm’s average employee age is 23.


“Most studios still suffer from the HIPPO effect,” said Suresh, invoking the acronym for highest-paid person’s opinion or a tendency to defer to the most senior decision-maker. “Ours is decentralized and very data-driven.”


Pranav Pai, managing partner at venture backer 3one4 Capital, calls the startup’s approach a “data-driven, continuous feedback loop” that helps improve stories and production.


That has allowed Pocket Aces to steer clear of the clubby Bollywood scene populated by the offspring and relatives of established actors, producers and directors. Pocket Aces crunches data to gauge the popularity of actors, who then get cast in bigger shows. “We don’t have people sitting in a room taking decisions,” Pandita added.


Pocket Aces’ content tends to avoid the hero-always-wins happy-endings favored by big-budget Bollywood films, or the slower-moving plots of Indian television’s family dramas. “Young people have moved on,” Suresh said.


The startup’s most successful show is Little Things, which follows an unmarried couple as they navigate emotional upheavals, career trauma and personal aspirations in fast-paced Mumbai. It started off as a short video but went on to become a multi-episode series and is now streamed worldwide on Netflix to audiences from Turkey to Latin America.


Ananya Ivaturi, an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, is an ardent fan. “It’s a modern take on a cute relationship,” said Ivaturi, 19. “Most of the family dramas on TV are exaggerated and irrelevant to the younger audience. They have regressive portrayals of women.”


Pocket Aces subtly delves into subjects such as homosexuality, cohabiting outside of marriage and divorce. In a show called What the Folks, the protagonists — a young couple — debate onscreen whether or not to have children, unheard-of in most Indian families. In Adulting, about two young women traversing relationship and financial crises, the characters discuss what lines can be crossed in an office romance.


“There is a great hunger for good content,” Pandita said.

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Yes, Knives Out Is Technically A Star Wars Crossover

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Rather than immediately jump back into the Star Wars universe after delivering The Last Jedi to the masses at the end of 2017, Rian Johnson chose to tackle a whodunnit murder mystery next, which we now know as Knives Out. However, Johnson has admitted that in a way, Knives Out qualifies as a Star Wars crossover because Frank Oz, the voice and puppeteer of Yoda, appears in the black comedy. In Johnson’s words:

Frank Oz was announced to be joining Knives Out back in March, but it was only when Go London’s Charlotte O’Sullivan reminded Rian Johnson of Oz’s presence in the movie more recently that he acknowledged that the mystery movie has some Star Wars crossover… sort of. Johnson and Oz worked previously together on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as Yoda appeared before Luke Skywalker as a Force ghost as Luke was about to burn down the tree containing the sacred Jedi texts.

If we’re classifying crossovers as when an actor from a beloved property pops up in another project, then technically Daniel Craig should be another reason Knives Out functions as a Star Wars crossover since he cameoed in The Force Awakens as a stormtrooper. Granted, that wasn’t the Star Wars movie Rian Johnson wrote and directed, but it should still count!

That said, while Frank Oz is present in Knives Out, don’t expect to see him as a major player in the movie, as he only has a small part. Still, given their time together on this and The Last Jedi, maybe Rian Johnson will find another way to collaborate on another project in the future. As Johnson recently noted, it’s possible he could squeeze in another movie before he diverts his full attention to his Star Wars trilogy.

Who knows, maybe Frank Oz could somehow participate in the next Star Wars movies Rian Johnson is working on. Until now, his participation in the franchise has been limited to voicing and/or puppeteering Yoda, but like the trilogy that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are involved with, Johnson’s Star Wars movies aren’t connected to the Skywalker Saga. So unless they’re set in the past and there’s a chance we could see a young Yoda, this could be an opportunity for Oz to portray another Star Wars character, be it a human or an alien.

As for Knives Out, it held its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month and was met with critical acclaim. Featuring an all-star ensemble cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stansfield, Katherine Langford and Christopher Plummer, Knives Out follows the investigation into the death of a wealthy crime novelist on his 85th birthday, and all his family members are considered suspects.

The public will need to wait until November 27 to see Knives Out in theaters, but keep checking back with CinemaBlend for more coverage on the movie. Don’t forget to browse through our 2019 release schedule to learn what other movies will arrive before the year is finished.

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Half of The Suicide Squad Cast Unite in First Production Photo Shared by James Gunn

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Some of The Suicide Squad cast united with James Gunn over the weekend. The director posted a picture of himself with a partial list of the actors involved in the project. When asked by a fan over the weekend when production was going to start, Gunn replied by saying that he had already started, though it’s unclear which part of the process the project is in now. Harley Quinn actress Margot Robbie is currently taking care of reshoots for the Birds of Prey movie, so she was not with the cast in the new image shared by Gunn.

Firefly‘s Nathan Fillion is shown alongside Ant-Man‘s David Dastmalchian, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Sean Gunn, Pitch Perfect‘s Flula Borg, Daniela Melchior, Mayling Ng, and Jennifer Holland. James Gunn said, “Hanging out with part of The Suicide Squad team this weekend. What a great group of people!” The director is clearly excited to finally get to work on the movie, though it won’t hit theaters until summer 2021. DC fans are also excited to see what Gunn is going to deliver with an expanded cast.

Related: James Gunn on The Suicide Squad Soundtrack: It’s a Lot Different Than Guardians

David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was a critical flop, but it was a monster at the box office. Additionally, it launched Harley Quinn’s profile, thanks to Margot Robbie’s performance in the movie. A sequel was talked about right after the first installment hit theaters in 2016, though it took a little while to materialize. When James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2018, DC and Warner Bros. approached him about The Suicide Squad. After he agreed to come on board, he was rehired by Disney to come back and take on the final Guardians installment.

The full cast of The Suicide Squad includes Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman from the original movie with a ton of newcomers. Michael Rooker, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Steve Agee, Idris Elba, Storm Reid, John Cena Flula Borg, Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, Taika Waititi, and Peter Capaldi are also set to star in the upcoming movie. As for who everybody is playing, that is very much a mystery at this time, which has been amplified since James Gunn said most of the reporting on the subject has been inaccurate, even calling out major news outlets.

The Suicide Squad is gearing up to hit theaters on August 6th, 2021. James Gunn took nearly a year off of social media after Disney let him go, so fans are happy to see him back sharing updates after the lengthy break. Gunn does a good job of interacting with fans on social media from dealing with rumors to fan theories and the long-running Guardians of the Galaxy Easter Egg hunt. Most importantly, he is there to set the record straight, which everybody appreciates. You can check out James Gunn’s Instagram image of The Suicide Squad cast.

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Former Disney Artist Imagines What The X-Men Could Look Like In The MCU

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Marvel Comics has countless beloved characters on their pages, although some have been able to stand out as fan favorites. Chief among them are the X-Men, with the mutants framed as outsiders who are protecting the society that fears and hates them. Since the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fandom has been patiently waiting for the X-Men to appear. This was made all the more possible with Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox. And one former Disney artists has imagined what it might look like.

Disney and Fox’s merger had big implication for the film world in general. But for comic book fans, the biggest question was how/when Fox characters like the Fantastic Four and X-Men might finally join the MCU. It appears that Marvel is going to take its time before bringing the scrappy group of mutants back to theaters, but one artist’s rendering of how it might happen is enough to cause goosebumps for comic book enthusiasts. Check it out below.

I mean, come on. This image shows comic book accurate costumes for the X-Men, as well as the return of Wolverine. Now we’ll just have to wait and see how the studio actually goes about bringing mutants to the massive shared universe.

This image comes to us from artist Jason Pastrana (via Reddit), who made some concept art showing how the X-Men might look from within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pastrana formerly worked as Disney’s senior concept artist, so he knows the House of Mouse well. But he seems especially passionate about comic book adaptations, often crafting brilliant illustrations of long awaited comic book moments and crossovers. The above image is certainly no exception.

Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox was an exciting bit of intel for comic book fans, and the timing seemed to fit perfectly with where the MCU currently is. Phase Three ended with Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Avengers: Endgame provided an ending for some of the shared universe’s biggest characters. Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow all received fitting conclusions to their stories, in addition to the previous death of Vision. And with Spider-Man departing the MCU thanks to Sony and Marvel’s negotiations, new characters will be needed to fill out the shared universe.

The X-Men seem like a great choice for this purpose, as the mutant team typically featured plenty of fascinating characters. Each individual member of the team has their own traumas and struggles, so if the characters are properly serviced they should make for great storytelling. It might be a challenge to find the right director to balance an ensemble cast, but the mutants would seemingly fit in perfectly to the MCU.

This image also featured the return of Wolverine, who is finally rocking his iconic yellow and blue costume. Comic book fans waited for years to see that costume translated into live-action, but Hugh Jackman never suited up during his tenure in the franchise. The costumes in Fox’s X-Men franchise were typically toned down, black, and made of leather. This was an attempt to give the team a more realistic look, despite fans hoping for the colorful costumes from the comics.

It’s ultimately unclear if/when the X-Men will finally join the MCU. Fox’s long running franchise only recently ended with Dark Phoenix, which is considered to be one of the weakest X-Men movies. There’s nothing mutant-centric on the current slate of Phase Four, and Kevin Feige has expressed his interest in giving the characters some time off screen before rebooting them.

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