"Educated young urbanites are moving to foreign networks" : Hemal Thakkar

Actor Hemal Thakkar, along with good friends Paresh Raval and Anand Mundra has recently ventured into TV production under their banner Playtime Creation. Their first project - a rib tickler called 'Shubh Mangal Savadhan' premiered on Sahara TV on 15 July. 

At a time when veteran TV producers are finding the going tough, Playtime has taken to production with the effortless ease with which Raval churns out his hilarious one-liners on the big screen. Close on the heels of this comedy, are four other serials that the group is working on. That the task is by no means a cakewalk is evident from the Raval's observation that turning producer has been a more arduous struggle than making it as an artiste.

Excerpts of an interview in which Thakkar discussed his plans with indiantelevision.com correspondent,Amar.

How did you get into television?

I've been actively involved with theatre as an actor in my younger days. Later, I worked as creative director with a TV production house called AIN TV. The desire to create quality programmes I enjoy watching was always there. I have wanted to turn producer for some time. In fact some two years ago, I had a pilot shot for a youth series called 'Josh' which never went on air. So, getting a serial on air has been a natural outcome towards which we had been working for some time.
How and when did you team up with Paresh Raval?

Pareshbhai and I have known each other for years now, right from our theatre days. Pareshbhai and I have a tremendous meeting of minds and we had been thinking on similar lines - that is of producing TV software for sometime. There is an amazing level of mutual trust and respect between us. .
"It's the norm here to put the onus of a project's failure on the writer"
How was 'Shubh Mangal Savadhan' conceived?

'SMS' was conceived by me almost four years ago. In those days, I had a great deal of difficulty in deciding whom to marry. Whenever I would meet a girl, I would wonder - is she the one for me? Many a time, I would believe that a girl is my type only to be disappointed later. I guess, that is a stage many people go through when they reach marriageable age, are under pressure to settle down and yet have no idea of who would a suitable mate. Marriage is a serious matter and yet the desperation of finding the right person to marry can lead to funny situations. This is the idea on which 'SMS' is based.
What was the criterion in opting for Sahara TV?

Well, Sahara I believe, is a truly upcoming channel and in future things are only going to get better for it. Besides, they were very comfortable with our creatives and we got along superbly. 'SMS' was approved by another channel also, but Sahara was quicker in taking decisions. We shot the pilot in December last year and it was approved within weeks.
Does having a renowned actor like Paresh Raval help? Don't the channels want to oblige him just in case they might want him to do a show for them?

Well, Pareshbhai's presence helps, but only in getting a good reception from the channels. Perhaps we are called for meetings more promptly. Besides that, I don't think any channel would want to oblige him because no channel today wants to take even the slightest of risks when it comes to the kind of programmes they want.

Pareshbhai had himself said in the launch conference that turning producer was a more cumbersome process than his struggle to make it as an actor. Even though he said it in a lighter vein, the fact is we have struggled a lot. We have been working on concepts for nearly two years now. In fact, some of our concepts were shelved after having worked very hard on them. So, having Pareshbhai hasn't really made things that easy.
As a production house, which genres are you looking at?

I am basically looking at programmes that would appeal to the mass audience. See, as far as the educated young urban population is concerned, they are fast moving over to foreign networks like the Discovery channel and other movie channels because apart from a very few handful of serials, there are no good shows that can keep them rapt. So, we want to tap this audience share and would like to bring out innovative serials appealing to them. Right now, we are also working on four other serials- a never before religious thriller, a detective series, a soap and another comedy.
What exactly do you mean by a religious thriller?

See, most problems in India have to do with misconceptions relating to religion and the way it is exploited by politicians for their gains. So, the serial will deal with these issues but the story will be presented in a thriller format. Beyond this, I wouldn't like to say anything at this stage.
Do you prefer producing weeklies or dailies?

At this point of time, I would go for dailies simply because in the last two years or so, the audience has got so used to dailies that weeklies, no matter how good they are, are not being received so well. Besides, channels also tend to market and promote dailies better.
" Pareshbhai's presence helps, but only in getting a good reception from the channels "
At this stage, how many on-air serials do you feel you can handle effectively?

We wouldn't like to have more than five serials on air at any given time because then we would not be able to maintain a personal supervision on quality.
Do you find channel EPs' interference in your work an impediment?

I don't know. It's all about hitting it off with them. There have been times when they have raised so many objections and at other times they have solidly backed us. Actually, it's all about their liking the concept. If they like it, things move quite smoothly.
Do you agree with the statement that TV is a writer's medium?

Absolutely, a writer is like the first Brahmin from whom the process of learning starts and plays the most crucial role in the way a project shapes up.
Why is the contribution of a writer least acknowledged then?

See, it's the norm here to put the onus of a project's failure on the writer. Ideally, I would like a writer to work only on my projects because that helps him to concentrate fully on a few projects and because you are always interacting with the same team, it leads to better understanding, minimizing the scope of error. But then the budgets that we get don't allow for such a provision.
Who are your favourite directors?

Anuraag Basu, who shot a pilot for me, was just amazing. Partho Mitra is another of my favourites. The Kulkarni brothers- Sameer and Sachin are also very good.
Between Paresh Raval and you, how do you divide work responsibilities?

Well, we have a small team with just one project on air right now. So, the need for a strict segregation of workload does not exist at this point. Both of us are involved with all aspects. But it is understood that Pareshbhai will have a final say on creative aspects, whereas I am expected to get head on with the execution part- handling the marketing and production. Both of us are however closely involved with the scripting. In fact, even when Pareshbhai is abroad, we are constantly in touch and whenever possible, Pareshbhai takes time out to personally come for channel meetings.
How do you foresee programming trends in future?

There will be a greater variety of serials catering to disparate genres without dismantling the TV viewers' staple diet- family drama soaps.
How do you see Playtime Creation evolving in the future?

We want to develop Playtime into an art corporation. Apart from producing serials and later on films, we plan to extend our services to other areas that involve creative talent. We would like to help market Indian paintings and handicrafts internationally. We would like to help promote Indian folk music.

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