Television

"Channels do interfere a lot...": B.A.G Films, Mumbai Head Rajesh Chaddha

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To say that Rajesh Chaddha, Head of Mumbai operations of B.A.G.Films, is a man of steel would be an understatement. The production house's game show Hai Na Bolo Bolo recently went through a really rough patch, but Chaddha has weathered the storm.

The show, launched early this year, did not start off on a promising note. The TRPs were as low as 1.78. Chaddha went in for a risky revamp, one that saw the replacement of host Karan Oberoi with Ravi Behl. The trick worked and Chaddha is now hoping for greater things for the show.

"I have done my homework. I am sure Hai Na Bolo Bolo will pick up," he says, rocking back and forth in his chair, almost suggesting that ups and downs are a part of every business. Clearly, this man believes in the 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going' adage. He has faced challenges before, only to emerge triumphant.

Into his ninth year with B.A.G.Films, he has no plans to shift loyalties. In fact, he has chalked out big, ambitious plans for the company. Taking time off from his busy schedule at his office, he spoke to Vickey Lalwani.Excerpts:

Of late, you have revamped your show 'Hai Na Bolo Bolo'. What went wrong?

Nothing went wrong as such. Let me tell you from the beginning. Our Chalti Ka Naam Antakshri had run for about two years. It was losing its freshness. It needed a break. We suggested that we'd do a new game show. Star Plus showed keen interest and asked us to get ready.

I personally designed Hai Na Bolo Bolo right from its look to the content. Star was mighty impressed. But we had a hitch. We wanted a good-looking singer who could anchor well. We could not get anybody who had all the three qualities- looks, 'sur' and style.

Realising that, we thought of Karan Oberoi and Nausheen Ali Sardar. We had done a lot of surveys, including many mock shows. A large section of the society wanted Kkusum, sorry, Nausheen. We were excited about the idea of software driven shows on television- the first of its kind. We planned only six episodes. We had decided that we'd go by the feedback. It was a trial-n-error exercise.

Were there errors?

I guess so. The feedback we received demanded that we go in for an immediate revamp. We needed a transformation, in terms of the format and the set. We needed to add pace and colour.

But why did Ravi Behl step into Karan Oberoi's shoes?

Karan Oberoi informed us that he did not have dates to shoot the newly improvised episodes, as he was busy shooting for a feature film in Jakarta along with The Band of Boys. He tried to readjust his schedule but his prior commitments could not be rescheduled. And so, we parted ways amicably. Then arose the question of finding the replacement. We had a long debate on who we should rope in. Finally, we zeroed in on Ravi Behl. He has done a mind-blowing job. To top it all, he is a gifted singer.

"EPs can never be a hindrance in a proper and phased structure like ours"

If Karan had not been booked for Jakarta, would he have remained?

Hmmm. Yes, but going by the feedback on anchors' profile, he would have had to undergo a change in his look and style. If you see carefully, even Nausheen has undergone lots of changes in the new version.

Rewind. How did you get into production in television?

While I was doing my MBA from Pune university, I was absorbed by Reliance as a marketing trainee. Before that, I had a brief stint at Contract and HTA. Reliance slotted me in their company called Observer India. Out of the blue, Rajiv Shukla, who was also working there, asked me that why I didn't get into television. He said I would be better suited to the electronic media. He even offered me a job... in B.A.G. Films. As it was, I was not enjoying my work at Reliance.

Why?

It was a typical 9-5 job. I was looking for something creative which would offer me some flexible atmosphere. I found myself quite suffocated and straitjacketed there.

So you took up Rajeev Shukla's offer?

Yeah. I took it up, but not before I had made sure that I was going to like it. It is extremely important that you feel a sense of enjoyment before you feel a sense of belonging.

Then?

Suddenly, I discovered that my new boss Anurradha Prasad was Shukla's wife! (smiles).

Interesting. Please continue...

The company was in operation since 1993. I joined them in 1994. It was a very small set-up at that point of time. There were just four or five people working for the company. They wanted me to look after the 'marketing and business development'. Today, after nine years, I am the head of their Mumbai operations.

Initially, Anurradha Prasad and I were doing the spade work for the launching of Channel 9 in India. During that exercise, we realised that it was imperative to have an office in Mumbai. The television and film people we met were under the impression that we were a Delhi-based set-up, heavily into political, infotech and cookery shows, despite the fact that we had done lots of fiction in the past.

We were not being taken as a complete production house. Imagine, we had done Chalti Ka Naam Antakshri, Do Aur Do Paanch and Tum Pukar Lo by that time! Yet... Anyway, clearly, we had missed out on a large chunk. Enough was enough. We decided to set up our own thing in Mumbai. Anurradha entrusted me with the challenging task of setting the ball rolling in Mumbai.

As a producer, what difficulties do you encounter?

No project can sail through without some problem. Moreover, every project has a different difficulty. But the most common difficulty is scheduling the dates of the artistes. If there's a goof-up in a daily serial, the situation can get completely out of hand. The channel deadlines have to be met at any cost.

"We do feel like puppets, but whatever they say, works towards the betterment of the programme"

What is the job of an EP? At the end of the day, is he really an asset? Last week, a director told me that the EP department often messes up the whole show.

EPs can never be a hindrance in a proper and phased structure like ours. In fact, an EP is responsible proper execution of the show. He/she is the hands-on person.

Coming to our structure. We have an in-house creative department, programming department, finance department and a news bureau. Extensive research and debate is done on every decision taken. Every staff member here is a professional. The pros and cons of every aspect are dwelt upon. The requirement of the director and the technicality which varies from project to project is never compromised upon.

Like, when we start off on a serial, we first go deep into the story. We ensure that there are enough twists and turns in the plot so as to keep the viewers' interest alive. Importantly, we safeguard the viewers' sensibilities. Then, we sit and decide upon the director. He/she has to be the best one for handling the genre of that project. If we are coming out with a thriller, it would be foolish to take someone who specialises in socials.

Going back to the EP aspect. At least in our set-up, we have a production manager and a scheduler who work in tandem with the EP. This reduces the load of our EP, which in turn, promises better output. Like it happens in some productions houses, our EPs don't have to monitor petty things like availability of lights, time-setting with the artistes, etc. Our EPs are rather focused on the requirements expressed by the directors on sets and taking care that the scenes are executed exactly in the manner written. We allow the lines to be changed here and there, but not the gist of the scene.

If memory serves me right, you dropped Indranil Goswami who was directing your serial 'Haqeeqat'. Why?

There again, we had not made a wrong choice. Midway, we realised that Goswami was unavailable to devote sufficient time to the project, which in turn, had an adverse effect on our despatches which otherwise have always been timely. Perhaps it was due to the fact that he was a Kolkata-based guy. So let's not say that we dropped him, but rather, we parted amicably.

Does PR with channels help in getting a programme passed?

I don't think so. Today, channels can judge the quality of your product immediately. Only if they find that you have the class, talent and potential to sustain, you will get the nod. In the early days of satellite television, PR might have been a helping factor. Initially, even I laboured under this myth.

Do channels pressurise the production houses?

Channels interfere a lot. At times, the creative department's viewpoint does not go down well with the channel guys, and you have to alter or even resurrect the whole thing to satisfy them. Sometimes, they say that what we have written has been already shown on the tube, sometimes they do not like the look and the clothes of a particular artiste... Channel guys are literally dominating the scene. At times, with other production houses, I have even heard that the channel has got the director changed, saying that the current one is not happening. It's a big problem, but at the same time, a good learning experience.

A learning experience! With so much of intervening, don't you guys feel like puppets?

We do feel like puppets, but whatever they say, works towards the betterment of the programme. Today, our serial Kumkum on Star Plus has touched a TRP of 7, which is a record of sorts in the afternoon transmission. Let me admit that Star Plus has been a big player in the success story of this serial.

What next?

We are coming up with a one hour weekly show. It will be fiction. It's for Star Plus, hopefully. After that, we have planned a crime series, which will be based on true stories. And then we are coming out with feature films. Our budgets will not be extravagant.

We have two scripts up our sleeve. One is a cross-over project, to be shot 25 per cent in France. The other one is a comedy thriller. A formal announcement in this regard is in the offing. And before I forget, let me tell you that we are broadening our news set-up. We are very serious about news and current affairs. We are coming up with a big set up in Delhi in this regard in terms of studio, and will probably have an uplinking facility there. Who knows, we might even come out with a news channel of our own!

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