For years, STAR Plus had enjoyed the numero uno position, thanks to three shows, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kasautii Zindagi Kay. Together, the three shows gave STAR Plus the lion's share of the market and kept the competition at bay, ensuring that Zee TV and Sony remained a distant No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
However, in 2008, the launch of new channels and new shows changed the rules of the game. The popularity of STAR Plus' three shows began declining from double-digit ratings to single-digit ratings and they were finally taken off the air.
Meanwhile, Zee's shows, such as Saat Phere, Kasamh Se, Maayka and Ghar Ki Lakshmi Betiyaan, were gaining in popularity. Slowly but surely, Zee TV's share was moving closer to STAR Plus' share.
What helped STAR Plus stay ahead of the game was one serial, Sapna Babul Ka – Bidaai (Bidaai). The amazing thing is that, caught between the decline of perennial favourites and the coming of new shows from new channels, the rise of Bidaai has gone virtually unnoticed.
The rise, fall and rise of Bidaai
Bidaai was launched on October 8, 2007, replacing Meri Awaaz Ko Mil Gayi Roshni in the 9 pm slot. In its very first week, the show garnered a TVR of 4.7 and a place among the top 10 shows of the week.
However, it wasn't all smooth sailing. In subsequent weeks, the show kept moving in and out of the list of Top 10 programmes until finally, in Week 13 of 2008 (March 23-29), it emerged as the most popular show on television. With a TVR of 6.07, it had raced ahead of other popular shows such as Kyunki…, Saat Phere and Banoo Main Teri Dulhan.
Nevertheless, initially, Bidaai found it difficult to hold on to the No. 1 position. It was only in the last week of April that it became a permanent fixture in that slot. The show ruled till the week of September 14-20, except for two odd weeks when Kyunki… or the IIFA Awards pushed it down to the No. 2 slot (June 1-7 and June 29 - July 5 respectively).
Then competition came in the form of Balika Vadhu on Colors, which, after a period of steady growth, moved into the top slot in the week of September 21-27. The difference in TVRs was marginal though – Balika Vadhu had 6.76 as compared to Bidaai's 6.57.
For the next 10 weeks, barring the blackout period when fresh content was not aired on GECs, Balika Vadhu continued to rule in the No.1 position.
Then, in Week 49 (November 30 – December 6), Bidaai made a comeback and it has retained the No. 1 position since then. The gap between the show and Balika Vadhu has widened too, with the latter in the No. 2 position.
So, on a cumulative basis, ever since its launch in October 2007, Bidaai has ruled at the top slot for as many as 25 weeks (as of the end of 2008) – with hardly any signs of letting up this year.
Zama Habib, the storywriter of Bidaai (also the writer of Jahan Pe Basera and Lo Ho Gayi Pooja Iss Ghar Ki), says, "Our observation is that when the plot shows real emotions, the show delivers high TVRs. But whenever the plot gets dramatic, the TVRs start declining." Ironically, most popular shows on television add generous dollops of drama and sensation to their plots in order to garner higher TVRs.
Habib sums it up, "Simplicity is the key to Bidaai's success."
Bidaai is directed by Romesh Kalra and Sunand Baranwal (the duo has also directed Maayka and Ghar Ki Lakshmi Betiyaan). Baranwal says he feels that it is the portrayal of genuine and raw emotions that appeals to the audience. He says, "In our narrative, it is not the girl who is conscious about her complexion, but rather her mother who worries over her appearance. The girl in question, Ragini, is a very confident person. That proves the sensitivity with which we have handled the subject. The audience for any soap builds over time. More than anything else, word of mouth publicity has done loads of good to the show."
Bidaai is the story of two sisters, Sadhna and Ragini. The plot uses the age-old Indian prejudice against a dark complexion and the difference that creates amongst sisters.
Sadhna, the adopted daughter of the family, is fair skinned, while the real daughter, Ragini, has a relatively darker complexion. The storyline is similar to that of the Hindi feature film, Vivaah, directed by Sooraj Barjatya and produced by Rajshri Productions.
Vivek Bahl, senior creative director, STAR Plus, says, "We wanted to have a show which had a similar storyline as Vivaah. In fact, we had approached Rajshri Productions, but they weren't comfortable with producing the show in such a short time span. So, we approached Rajan Shahi, who was the director of Saat Phere and Ghar Ki Lakshmi Betiyaan on Zee."
As fate would have it, the show turned out to be a hit with the audiences, just like the movie.
Bahl points out what the good performance of Bidaai has meant for STAR Plus. "The success means a lot, coming after a phase in which practically the entire STAR Plus team had moved on. The dependence was on aging shows and the new programming team was attempting to tackle a continuous slide in ratings, while Zee was rising. "The show gave us the confidence to stem the slide and prevent Zee from overtaking STAR for even a single week, directionally setting the way ahead for the channel," says Bahl.
Interestingly, Bahl was with Zee TV before moving to STAR Plus.
Shahi, the producer of the show, recalls, "Bahl knew that I was toying with the idea of turning producer, having been part of the industry for close to 10 years and having directed shows such as Saat Phere and Ghar Ki Lakshmi Betiyaan. Though the idea for the show was in its infancy, the channel was keen to go on air in just 20 days. This was a time when I was still in the process of filing forms for registering my production house with the Producers' Association."
The show also bears similarity to Saat Phere on Zee, where the protagonist is a dark-complexioned girl.
Shahi reasons, "We knew that certain comparisons and expectations would be unavoidable, be it with Vivaah or Saat Phere. We duly acknowledge that the thought for the show came from the Rajshri movie; the common thing with Saat Phere was the premise of a not-so-fair complexioned character."
He asserts that the similarities end there. "The values, characterisation, treatment and presentation of Bidaai are distinct and independent of any influence from the movie, or for that matter, the show on Zee," he states.
Shahi asserts that the channel has laid emphasis on minute production details for the show, starting from the selection of artistes to the designing of sets. "While designing the sets, we took care of not only the houses, but even the lanes surrounding them," he cites.
The show, therefore, is a good blend of realistic and commercial sensibilities.
The marketing support
Prem Kamath, senior vice-president, marketing and communication, STAR India, says, "Great content has to be constantly supported by regular promotional initiatives. When Bidaai was launched and the initial response came in, we decided that every three months, we would highlight the key points in the story. We aggressively used mass media to publicise crucial developments in the story, such as Ragini performing at the Taj Mahotsav in the show, in the presence of actor Hema Malini."
Kamath also cites the example of Sadhna and Ragini, the female leads of the show, attending a bridal exhibition off-screen, which coincided with the on-screen preparations for Ragini's marriage.
Today, both the girls are stars in their own right – the character of Ragini is being played by the actor Parul Chauhan, while Sara Khan is playing Sadhana in the show – and enjoy a great fan following. To facilitate this, STAR Plus involved the actors in constant interactions – online and on-air – with the viewers. The Bidaai team also made its presence felt in two other popular STAR Plus shows, Amul STAR Voice of India and Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hai, the latter with superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
STAR Plus' purpose has been to keep its audiences engaged consistently. The channel has created a STAR Parivaar Corner at Big Bazaar outlets, where dresses and costumes worn by the actors of Bidaai are up for sale.
Bidaai began as a 30-minute show. However, on October 13, 2008, after the show completed a year, the timing was increased to one hour, just to increase sampling. From January 12, 2009, the show will go back to the 30-minute format. Including four repeats, the slots will be 1:30 am – 2 am, 9 am – 9:30 am, 11:30 am – 12 noon, 5:30 pm – 6 pm, and the prime time 9 pm – 9:30 pm.