'I'm not interested in big names because on TV you can create a star in 4 weeks' : Adib Contractor

Adib Contractor ventured into TV production in 1992. Almost a decade later, he has to his credit some 800 hours of software produced for different private channels. Contractor's production company Picasso's tie-up with Percept (hence the name Picasso Tyger) last year is seen as a major step towards transforming the company into a major corporate entity. Contractor has in him a rare mix of creativity and shrewd business acumen. In fact, by his own admission, creativity cannot sustain itself if it does not make good business sense. He takes immense pride in all his work and personally nurtures all his programmes. Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Amar met Adib at his Santacruz office where he was at his articulate best.

What brought you into TV production?

My foray into TV production started with the launch of Zee, India's first satellite TV channel in 92-93. I saw a major business opportunity in providing software content to the channel. As such I didn't have any advantage by way of background because I am a commerce graduate. But yes, the scope of a new business opportunity along with my own fascination for the medium made me turn producer. Also, the fact that one of my initial partners, Tarun Chopra, had an advertising industry background was of help in the early stages.

What are the creative factors that you keep in mind before starting a project?

I take up whatever appeals to my sensibilities and try and synergize it with the programming trend that is likely to exist six months down the line. Unfortunately, what we see today is a herd mentality. Once a particular programme is a hit everybody expects you to churn out something similar. But I guess a successful producer's forte lies in predicting what will be the next change as far as trends are concerned.

Are you very particular about the budgets you work with?

Where budgets are concerned, I don't set myself a hard and fast limit which I will never exceed, but yes like any other producer, I do try to minimise costs. The bulk of the costing consists of the star cast and the scale (locations, settings). A careful balancing act in these two areas can reduce costs significantly.

Are you particular about having a big star cast?

No, not at all. Personally I'm not interested in big names because on TV you can create a star out of a nobody in just four weeks. Look at what Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki have done for their actors. But yes, I do look for quality actors who one can depend on.

What are your sources of funding?

Our own capital reserves and bank loans. It is not easy to obtain bank loans in this business and if I've got them it is largely because of the credibility I enjoy from my past work.

On what basis do you select a director for your project?

The director's forte as can be established from his past work and whether the director's areas of strengths is in synergy with the requirements of my project. Also what is very important is the kind of personal rapport I share with the director, because, after all, a serial requires us to work together for almost a year and unless we think alike and are on the same wavelength, things just won't work.

As a producer, how much are you actually involved with the daily shoots?

Very much. In fact I visit the shoot every evening to take stock of the situation and ensure that everything is moving well.

Which are the specific areas you like to be personally involved with as producer?

Creative designing of any new project is my forte. I am completely involved with this aspect. This includes the development of the storyline, characters etc. I initiate negotiations with the channels. I take a personal interest in the casting of my serials. Other than that there are so many day-to-day responsibilities which I cannot possibly take a personal interest in for want of time and which I have to delegate to my directors.

Is there a subject that is very close to you?

Basically, I like exploring different relationships, sans melodrama. This is reflected by the fact that I have produced the maximum number of stories for "Rishtey" by an independent producer - 17 till last year.

Why did you stop producing stories for "Rishtey"?

See, every story had to be treated as a new project, which meant that every one-hour story required a huge investment of time and effort on its designing. This coupled by the fact that the profit margins were low made us rethink our policy because after all, financial feasibility is what can sustain creativity in the long run.

Daaman on Sahara TV

India is probably the only country where producers are not entitled to a share of the ad revenues of channels even after forfeiting their rights over the serial.

On what basis do you choose a channel?

There is no specific criteria. I started off with Zee and because I enjoy a good understanding with them, most of my projects have been for Zee. But I have always explored new business opportunities and hence have worked even with Channel 9 and now with Sahara. In fact one of the main reasons I decided to do "Daaman" for Sahara was that this programme was supposed to be a channel driver when it was conceived. That it did not turn out that way is another thing.

Hasn't Zee's programming policy become very erratic and insensitive to the producers? I mean so many programmes had to end abruptly for the revamp?

Well, that is a matter of personal opinion. Where I am concerned, I don't hold anything against the channel because after all it is the channel that is putting its money on you and hence when it is investing so much it also has a right to expect the best returns.

How do you rate Zee's new programming?

Well, I haven't been watching all programmes regularly and hence would like to reserve my judgement. But yes, one programme which I feel will be a sure winner is "Aap Jo Bole Ha to Ha, Aap Jo Bole Na to Na". In fact, I am planning a major pitch for this and have already accumulated a good collection of stories.

In the present state of the TV industry, how much of financial and mental uncertainty does a producer like you have to put up with?

A lot of it. In fact, India is probably the only country where producers are not entitled to a share of the ad revenues of channels even after forfeiting their rights over the serial. Unfortunately, we don't have a body of TV producers that can take up an issue like this.

What are the advantages of dailies from the point of view of a producer?

How many producers have four or five weeklies running simultaneously? It is very difficult to even imagine such a thing today, given the shortage of desired time slots, the effort, cost and time incurred in hiring separate actors, directors, writers and technicians for all these projects and the designing of all these projects. The next most feasible option is to shoot one daily running four or five days of the week even though it has to be shot on a lower budget.

The only solution to this (breaking the monopoly of corporate giants like Balaji and UTV) lies in predicting the future, the next dominant programming trend and start preparing for it.

What are the advantages of dailies from the point of view of channels?

It saves them a lot of promotional costs. Instead of promoting and marketing four separate programs they have to do it for just one. The fact that the budgets for weeklies are low and there is a package deal with the producer also reduces cost. Also if the serial starts off well on a Monday and has a good viewership, more often than not it will enjoy the same for the rest of the week.

What is your production set-up like?

We have two executive producers, two production people and a team of about 20 people. But yes, most of these people work on a project basis and that I feel is justified because in this business there are low phases when a lot of people have to sit idle.

Do you feel that there is a monopoly of corporate giants like Balaji and UTV on the best time slots?

Yes, to an extent this is true. The only solution to this lies in predicting the future, the next dominant programming trend and start preparing for it. In fact we have already started work on what we feel will be kind of programmes that will be produced six months down the line. However, I can't disclose that to you as it is a trade secret.

You have been in the business for almost a decade now. Why hasn't Picasso Tyger grown into a business empire like Balaji or UTV?

(Laughs) Well, I can't think of a specific reason except maybe that we had not planned things so well. But yes, last year we tied up with Percept ( hence the name Percept Tyger) and this tie-up was a step in that direction. In fact, today we have plans of venturing into film production as well.

What distinguishes Adib Contractor the producer and his programmes from the rest?

My sensibilities as a producer. It's a difficult question actually. I have produced a wide variety of programmes. We were heavily into game shows at a time when nobody had imagined a thing like "KBC", we have produced some of the best stories on "Rishtey" and have produced quality drama. I guess the overall personal dedication that I have put into all my programmes and the quality of product that it has resulted in is what leaves a mark.

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