Meet Netflix’s Bela Bajaria, the woman who decides what we binge-watch
She's revolutionising the entertainment landscape, one gritty tale at a time
Last month, Netflix launched its first original series in Africa; called Queen Sono, it’s the story of a spy who finds herself in a perverse web of business and politics as she hunts for the truth behind her mother’s death. Netflix India has seen its share of women-led stories—from the gut-wrenching tell-all Delhi Crime (2019)—the story of an honest cop uncovering the gruesome rape and murder of a young girl to the recently released Kiara Advani-starrer Guilty. There is a clear narrative here—women are telling their stories, adding their much-needed voices to cinema and changing the way we consume content, not just in front of the camera but also behind it.
One such force of change is Netflix’s vice president of content, Bela Bajaria. In her more than two-decade long career—first at CBS as a long-time network executive, then as president of Universal Television—she has greenlit popular series such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Master of None, The Good Place, among several others. In short, she’s the woman who decides what you and I binge–watch every day.
She is also a champion of equal representation. For instance, one of Bajaria’s biggest successes was Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project, which was the first American show starring and created by an Indian American back in 2012. “I always imagine a brown girl as the hero of the story. That’s the way I see the world,” she says as we sit down for a conversation following a quick photo shoot.
Bajaria is on a whirlwind trip to India, one of the major markets in her portfolio. Netflix’s aggressive growth story in the country (with its mobile-only plans and competitive pricing) coupled with a solid content slate is only the beginning of what’s to come next. “Last year was all about hiring local executives and empowering them with decision-making skills and focusing on building teams here. And that’s what I gravitate towards, the scrappiness and hustle of building new things,” says Bajaria, who has spent a little more than three years at the streaming giant. “But in Netflix years that’s like 20 years,” she quips. Perhaps, being a hustler is ingrained in her genes.
Cotton top, INR 3,790, Massimo Dutti. Polyester-blend trousers, INR 13,200, Bodice.Cotton and silk chanderi jacket INR 49,900 IKAI by Ragini Ahuja. Rose-gold, enamel and diamond necklace, rose-gold and diamond ring; both prices on request, Her story. Diamond ring, Bajaria’s own
She moved to the United States as an eight-year-old from London. Her parents were born and raised in East Africa. “In the late seventies, they came here to chase the big American dream. They opened car washes and I worked with them over weekends. Having grown up around that environment has instilled a great sense of responsibility,” says Bajaria. And she not only values these life lessons but credits them for her success. “I didn’t realise it until many years later when I was at CBS, Universal and now at Netflix, I run everything like it’s my own business. These are all my mini car washes, just in a very large corporation,” she laughs.
Whether it is juggling large teams through various time zones, running multiple charities, or watching her younger daughter play soccer over the weekend, Bajaria feels alive in all of these moments. She adds, “I am so fortunate to have this life. It is so exciting and rewarding to see the energy of my teams and the pride they take in telling stories on a global scale.”
Photographs: Neha Chandrakant, Stylist: Pujarini Ghosh, Rupangi Grover; Hair and Make-Up: Jean-Claude Biguine Salons & Spa India; Assisted by: Tejaswini Sinha (Styling) Abhilash Safai (Photography)