"We have perfected the art of storytelling" : Rajesh Pavithran Balaji Telefilms COO

Balaji Telefilms continues to be on a high despite Kutumb‘s hiccups and Kya Haadsa Kya Haqeeqat‘s teething problems. The production house is cautiously feeling its way with shows launched recently even as it tries its hand with a different channel, Sahara. But COO Rajesh Pavithran says the company is currently taking it easy and making big time plans for the next fiscal.

In an interview with, Pavithran discussed programming trends, viewer expectations and Balaji‘s plans.

Excerpts -

What is next on Balaji‘s plate?

While last year, we spread ourselves out by launching several shows, we are in the consolidation phase this year. Still, we are coming out with a couple of new shows in November, one for Star (Kaalki) and one for Sahara. The point is, Balaji‘s positioning in the top 20 shows has been more consistent than most others. This I guess has been due to the fact that despite being where we are, we have not been complacent.

Since the days of Hum Paanch, we have constantly striven for a new look every time, in line with what the viewers would want. What sets us apart from the others, although storylines can sound similar, is the art of storytelling that we have perfected. Yet, we keep trying to up the quality of content. We spent almost Rs 10 million when we fast forwarded the Kyunkii... story 20 years, but the results were worth it.

Drastic shifts in the storyline have become an increasing feature of Balaji soaps of late. Is it channel pressure or is it pre-ordained?

We believe in re-inventing ourselves every three to four weeks. We keep a constant finger on the pulse of the viewer through the channel and through our own in house research. If a story calls for a sudden twist or even re-characterisation of a part, it is worth it in order to sustain viewer interest.

We have a serial called Kannadi on Udaya TV, which was sinking so badly in the ratings that we had decided to pull it off air five weeks ago. But then the writers came up with a complete twist in the tale, which catapulted Kannadi to the number one show on Udaya with a TRP of 11.97, despite being slotted in the unenviable 6:.30 pm band. But there are other shows we do not tamper with, like Kammal, which I feel is the best Balaji show currently on air.

Despite having made the first big splash with a comedy like ‘Hum Paanch‘, why hasn‘t Balaji been able to replicate its success with ‘Kitney Kool Hain Hum‘?

Perhaps, it is because audiences today are not looking for genuine comedy on television and are happier with the soaps they get. Kitney Kool was a good enough comedy, but maybe it did not get the push it needed on the channel. See, it is much easier to make people cry with a soap but very tough to make them laugh. As for the near future, we do not intend to make a comedy but I don‘t rule one out either.

Does that mean Balaji is unwilling to experiment with new genres and is content to replicate the tested formula of the soap?

Not at all. From Hum Paanch, we graduated to making a Kyunkii and then a Kahaani successfully. A Kitney Kool may not work and a KHKH may take time to take off, but we have persevered and made a success of in Kaahin Kissi Roz and Kasauti.... in each of which, the twists in the plots and the way the storytelling has been dealt with have been central to their steady rise on the charts.

But it is the audience feedback which is vital for us. We have proved our superiority in the family soap genre, and the audience has shown that it is the soap it craves for the most. It also becomes a case of giving the viewer what he wants.

"I would rate Kammal as our best show on air currently, contentwise, though it may not reflect in the ratings."

Is it a special chemistry with Star or better packaging that accounts for most of Balaji hits being on that channel?

It is a good rapport that we share with Star, but that does not mean we reserve our best shows for them. I would rate Kammal as our best show on air currently, contentwise, though it may not reflect in the ratings. And of course, Kkusum and Kutumb have helped Sony climb up in the stakes. Sometimes, it is just the way you relate to a channel, exchange feedbacks etc that also count.

How about Balaji‘s presence on the southern channels?

This year, in fact, Balaji intends to focus on regional channels. From one programme on the Kannada language Udaya channel, we have moved up to three shows on air - Apart from Kannadi and Kavaludaari, both social dailies, we have recently started a new daily thriller Kshana Kshana. Our show on Sun TV, Kudumbam, has also been a chartbuster.

While we have set up offices in Bangalore and Chennai to cater to the shows in these markets, our next focus is on Kerala, which we have not tapped thus far. We are looking for a slot on Sun TV and perhaps one on Gemini TV too.

Sahara is slowly emerging as a major buyer of TV software. Balaji too is doing a serial for them for the first time.

See, Sahara is another example of a channel constantly moulding itself. Currently, its trying to re-engineer its programming strategy as well as its marketing. This very fact made us look at Sahara as a promising channel.

‘Kya Haadsa Kya Haqeeqat‘ had a miserable start, but seems to be picking up now. Did the replacement of its lead protagonist have anything to do with it?

KHKH did have a low initial response, but it is not always easy to change habits of viewers, who did not have anything in the weekend prime time slots earlier on any of the channels. The fact that is picking up speaks for the viewers‘ catching on to the concept. Pallavi‘s departure from the show had nothing to do with the ratings. She contracted jaundice and had to be bed ridden for several weeks. We had no choice but to opt for another lead actor. KHKH, I expect, will pick up ratings majorly in the coming few weeks.

"Pallavi‘s departure from the show (KHKH) had nothing to do with the ratings "

Does that mean Zee‘s new programming strategy of beginning its dailies on Sundays will also click in the days to come? Will that also not mean bad news for other channels many of which are airing Balaji soaps around the same time?

Zee is another channel that‘s attempting to re-invent itself. They are trying out novel tacks and I would definitely not write off the channel. Yes, if such programming clicks, it could mean stiff competition for the other channels. But then that‘s what this business is all about, and it could spell an overall improvement in quality of content across channels.

Balaji is also believed to be eyeing the Punjabi and Bangla markets, as well as overseas markets?

Yes, Punjabi and Bangla shows are definitely on our plan, but for the next fiscal. We are limiting our immediate plans for the South this year, and for consolidations. Next year, we also plan to produce software exclusively for the overseas markets, although we have not firmed up plans for the same.

Why has Balaji been having mass auditions across the country of late?

We are launching a couple of new character based shows for which we are scouting for the right face. It has to be someone like Nausheen Ali who fit the image and character of Kkusum to a T. We have had auditions in Delhi, Pune and Mumbai, the last of which drew over a 1,000 applicants. We are still to home in on the right face.

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