Oct 17, 2008

Entertainment - Ekta on Television

The industry is growing rapidly and it’s not just restricted to India alone. NRIs are equally glued to their TV sets when you have the bahus shedding tears or judges on reality shows getting into tiffs!

Who better than telly czarina Ekta Kapoor to give us a real picture of how far Indian television has come in its global journey and where it stands in comparison with the best in the world.

A Huge global connect

“Today we are finding a huge connect with the global audiences,” says Ekta, happy with the fact that her shows are making a mark abroad.

“The NRI market which needs a staple diet of something they would call Indian are finding television a better connect than even Bollywood. That’s because in Bollywood you go to a theatre and watch the razzmattaz. Besides, most films are even shot in Switzerland or other places abroad and you don’t get the entire Indian colour, the flavour. You get that in your daily dose of television.”

Ekta’s shows were popular in Afghanistan too and that did create a furore some time ago. “Shashi Tharoor called Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi the soft ambassador of India. Afghanistan had a culture evolution because of these shows to the extent that they were banned recently. It was banned because it was almost becoming a huge cultural shift for the non-Indians. TV is reaching where probably Bollywood doesn’t.”

What makes her particularly happy is also the fact that it’s transcending all boundaries and even non-Indians are taking an interest. “When some time ago Shweta Tiwari went to Sri Lanka, she was hugely surprised by the response she got there. That’s because Kasautii Zindagi Kay was the number one show there. Recently when Prachi Desai was abroad she was amazed to know that some people in South Africa watched Rock On for her. They knew her as Kasamh Se’s Bani.”

Of course, Ekta is realistic and aware that there’s a long way to go when it comes to tapping the non-Indian market. “I want our programming to reach out to NRIs world over and then go beyond to a non-Indian audience. We have achieved that right now, but at a sporadic level. As far as volume goes we may have ten times more than film viewership. But we don’t have an industry or a proper management breakup to commercialise the whole thing in a big way.”

But will her kind of content really work with the global audience? “Sandhya Mridul was chosen as a jury member at the Shanghai television festival because of her popularity in Koshish Ek Aasha. That was the number one show in China. It was dubbed in Chinese and the people there really loved it!” exclaims Ekta. Point taken.

Indian television versus the US

The working of the television industry here compared to the US is very different. “Fiction is a lot easier to make there because the daily operas are usually aired in the afternoon and the night big time fiction dramas are weeklies, that too in seasons. So the kind of quality and technique you can experiment with is amazing,” she says.

Officials from top channels and production houses abroad who’ve met Ekta have always expressed their surprise at how the Indian industry manages to churn out so many shows. “They are extremely shocked how India can produce such high quality software within the time restrictions. Dana Walden (20th Century Fox Television’s head honcho) who I met abroad couldn’t get over the opulent weddings we have in our serials and such high volume production that too with no season breaks.”

One difference in the scenario here and abroad is that content in India is restricted. “Fiction here has to stay within the periphery of families and homes. Niche is now breaking out, but even though you can try out new things it’s still in a nascent stage.”

Another difference, she points out, are union rules. Abroad they are governed by strong union rules unlike here. So also, “The power lies more with the production house than channel. Here the channel has 80 per cent of power, while there because the rights lie with the producer they can sell it to one network and in the future resell to others,” she points out.

Need of the hour

Our telly industry can certainly be on par with the best. The need of the hour is to hone talent, she emphasises. “We are a comparatively newer industry than theirs. We don’t have proper schools for talent in India. I have started training programmes for youngsters so I can get some trained talent. There’s a huge requirement in the TV industry today. We are not being able to meet that volume because we hardly have any institutions. You are feeding 100 to an industry that needs 1,500 at any given time! There have to be specific areas that need to be looked into. If you are a writer there’s screenplay, dialogues, story, conceptualisation only in scripting. If there are no schools you can go to, how would you ever know you are not good at conceptualisation or any other area. How would you get better? There are four to five such huge departments within the industry,” she says.

Ekta has come a long way and this young entrepreneur’s success story is well known. But as the telly industry grows, she is set to spread her wings further. Lots of plans ahead and big dreams for the small screen. And she surely is confident she can fulfill them. And why not? After all none other than Peter Chernin, head honcho of Fox Group, once remarked, “Ekta is the biggest and sharpest brain in media.”

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