"I was fighting against the tide the minute I joined Zee" : writer, director, producer Vinta Nanda

She started as an assistant director, grew to be the director of the first and one of the most successful satellite soaps and has not looked back since. Writer, director, producer Vinta Nanda's association with Zee has been deeper than just that of a maker of hit serials like Tara. As the ideation head of Zee TV, she was the brain behind the most recent and revived version of Zee TV.

Nanda, in a chat with Gurpreet Tathgur, talks about her short lived stint as Zee's creative head and her new avatar as a commercial filmmaker.

Excerpts -

Could we start from your earliest associations with Zee TV?

In 1992, I and Raman Kumar made this series called Tara for Zee. It was one of the first few big programmes for me as well as for the television scene. Tara was such a big rage, I guess thereafter my name got associated with Zee. But I have done a lot of work for other channels too. As a freelance creative person, I am open to working with any channel. It's just perchance that I took up a job at Zee at the beginning of this year.

How did that happen?

Last year around November-December, Zee was trying to compete with the number one channel and was trying to put together different ways for a better strategy. There was definitely, at that stage, a need for a creative person. They came up to me and told me that they were looking for a creative head for Ideation. As a concept, it sounded very exciting and being the kind of person I am, I like to take on something that I have never done before.

One of the biggest attractions was in knowing how a channel runs, its perception and way of thinking, which ultimately has an effect on us when we are on the other side of the fence. So I took it up as a great opportunity. I thought it was a great way of getting to know what really works in the minds of the people who are going to actually back the programmes that we make. So I impulsively said yes to the job and within two weeks I was on.

When you took over as the creative head, Zee was not going through a very good phase. Did you find it very challenging and difficult to do what you were brought to do?

"We tried to break through the entire saas-bahu thing. And I think that was my greatest achievement at Zee"

It was a huge challenge. To me it was like, can I make a dent here or not? And I was sure with my experience and my past; with the number of hours of television that I had done, the amount of work I had done traveling across the length and breadth of the country, I knew through instinct that I would definitely be able to shake it up if not make a difference.

And I think I did it, because that was the ultimate challenge. I knew we were rock bottom. I knew I was walking into a scenario where the eyes were going to turn towards me and say, "Ok let's see what this babe does now?" The pressure and the stress were of various kinds. It wasn't just about the work I was doing. It was about the inter-personal relationships. So in all those aspects it was a Shakespearean experience. Which eventually became more or less like a farce.

I didn't expect it to be like that but once I walked in I felt that I had walked into a Shakespearean play. I was literally in the concept of 'the world is a stage' and I am one of the players. And now I had to make my moves and I was one of the chessmen on the chessboard. I knew I was not permanent here.

So before you joined you had it clear in your mind that you were not there to stay?

I always knew that I was not permanent and that I had to leave the place because a corporate scenario was never my kind of scenario. I never had corporate aspirations or ambitions, but I had a corporate curiosity.

And that had brought me into this trap. I knew I had to get out of here and I had to get out safe, sound and successful. I'm a filmmaker, I'm a director, I'm a writer, I'm a producer, there was no place for me in a permanent corporate scenario. Once I was there I knew I had to do something and it was a challenge. I also knew that I had to make it happen. So I forgot everything that I was and just concentrated on the work.

"Creativity, innovation, experimentation, new wave thinking, contemporary approach is completely wasted as far as the Indian mindset goes"

What was the first thing that you did when you joined Zee?

The first thing that I did was to get into the act with my colleagues who briefed me about the present situation; where we were coming from and where we were going. And that's when I found that I had to make some contribution because according to me the direction in which we were perceptionally going, wasn't in my mind exactly the right way to go. I was now going to push what I thought was right. I was fighting against the tide the minute I joined Zee. But fortunately for me the chairman shared the same point of view and I will always cherish the experience of working with him.

And if at all I do this kind of job again, it would probably be for the experience itself. Developing strategies towards our future, developing methods of achieving those strategies, implementing them, and understanding what our creative pool was all about at this present time in the industry, was my main aim with my brief stint with Zee as a creative head. We tried to find out what the available resources were and how to gain the best out of those resources. We tried to break through the entire saas-bahu thing. And I think that was my greatest achievement at Zee.

But typical saas- bahu dramas are continuing to rule Indian television.

One side of me is facing the market reality and it is happy to have saas bahu dramas. We are targeting the middle class and their values are quite similar to what they watch on television. Unfortunately the market perception can't widen as easily as the creative perception does. And what has happened is the English channels are targeted at the up market audiences. And all the English software comes from abroad. Whatever Hindi programmes are, they are done and targeted for the down market audience.

And these viewers enjoy watching middle class traditions like sindoor, mangalsutra, rona stuff. What I find the most unfortunate aspect of this is that creativity, innovation, experimentation, new wave thinking, contemporary approach is completely wasted as far as the Indian mindset goes.

The Indian mind is not able to do all this and secondly, the foreign market has already provided all this here at cheaper rates. By the time the market realises that some change should be brought and that the middle class is ready for the changes, a whole generation of creative minds would be wasted.

The market operates on statistics and it is the market that is presuming that our middle class is not ready for contemporary Indian programming. There is a need of huge amount of changes in the industry and until that happens nobody will really know what really going to work.

So do you think the audience enjoys the programmes through which they can learn something?

I don't think so. All these are just time pass programmes. They don't make you think. As a creative TV writer, no matter how crazy I get and how mad I get, I know I can't write worse than what is being written nowadays. I also think we don't have to sell family values to our audience because Indian people have more family values then any other nation. And they don't need to learn anything from television.

As a creative director of Zee, what changes did you make?

I just brought in some very good new talents into the production arena and that was the biggest thing. Bringing in a new wave, a new generation of television makers. That was one important aspect of what I wanted to do and I managed to and had the full support of the channel also.

Besides that, the innovative programming which everyone can see. New programmes like Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, Kittie Party, Love Marriage, Aati Rahengi Bahareinand many more, and even the lottery game shows. It was not just me, it was the entire team and the way the network was flowing. I was fortunate the way everything was happening. I really enjoyed the eight months I spent there.

"The market operates on statistics and it is the market that is presuming that our middle class is not ready for contemporary Indian programming"

Talking about the programmes you just mentioned like 'Kittie Party', 'Love Marriage' are not that high on the TRPs. Do you think only the metro viewers can relate to it and are watching it?

No, nothing like that.Tara was like these programmes. People thought metro ke liye hai but it became a rage. The thing is that when you target a programme for a particular audience that doesn't' mean that other people are not going to see it. A film like Life is Beautiful was made in Italy but the whole world went gaga over it. So, when you target something at metros and say it is a city programme, the viewer in rural or small parts would still like to see what kind of lifestyle people staying in metros have and vice versa.

You can't really generalize. It is the story that makes the difference, it is the emotion which universalizes everything. And to me it was very important at that point when I was working at Zee to bring in serials, even though they run for three to four months but are different from what everybody are watching nowadays, and to make people turn around and start watching Zee TV.

For me, it is important that whatever you are watching on Zee is different and none of them are like clones running on other channels.

Why were these programmes allotted these time slots?

I was just creating the programmes. I was not strategizing as to where they should be placed. Someone else handled it.

Are you working on any film project as of now?

I am working on two films called White Noise and Kali. I intend to make White Noise first, essentially because it is the expression of something that I have been through. And I don't seem to be getting very far unless I work on it. I need to make the film. It is more my need then a business proposition. And Mahesh Bhatt has co-written the story with me.

Kali is based on a true story, which I encountered while I was working on a documentary last year. It is a story of a girl who became a widow at the age of eight and the dramatics, which took place after that. The scripts are ready. I have got partial funds for White Noise, just waiting for more finances. The day I get them, I will start the movie.

Are there any other projects you are working on?

Yes, I am working on a documentary on street children. It's a film called Seen but Not Heard. It's about children on the streets of Mumbai and Delhi. I am doing this film for a friend of mine - Nutan Bajaj Sahani. She is heading a campaign called Sirf ek muskan which raises funds for street children. I even run an NGO called Project Smita that I started with Raman Kumar in 1988. 'Smita' stands for Social Mobilization in Information for Timely Action. We have done television serials, we've made national and international documentaries. In a year, I devote two to three months to Project Smita. I feel much more a complete person because I am able to see life from both ends. Project Smita is my research way and Tracinema is my commercial outlet.

You have spent almost two decades in this Industry are you completely satisfied?

To be very honest, I am completely dissatisfied. I feel zero at every stage of my life. And I feel like a beginner every single minute of the day. With White Noise and Kali staring me in my face and being unfulfilled so far...everything fulfilled in the past is a forgotten case for me. And when these projects are completed, there will be something else so....

At the end of it were you totally satisfied with your tenure at Zee and would you wish to go back?

I would go back anytime. I would love to go back again and again. I would love to do a six-month stint every year in Zee TV. Not just in Zee TV but some channel. Every year, I would like to make a film for six months and sit in a channel for the next six months. I think that's life. I think these are the two ends of a spectrum I would like to visit every year of my life. And I would be able to understand and relate to the life much better. And I am completely fulfilled with what I did at Zee and I still feel I can do a lot more.

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