"The recent success of Aap Beeti has given a fillip to DD's declining viewership and set new standards": Ravi Chopra BR Films managing director

A second generation scion belonging to a family of successful film makers has adapted to the small screen with ease! Ravi Chopra's drive, passion and talent helped him to emerge from the shadows of his illustrious father Dr BR Chopra and famous uncle Yash Chopra. BR Chopra, one of most celebrated movie mavericks of the Indian celluloid scene has been the architect of a golden era of the Indian film industry which created immortal classic like Waqt, Naya Daur, etc. Ravi Chopra started as an assistant to Yash Chopra and his father in films such as Aadmi & Insaan, Ittefaq, Dastaan and Dhund.

With the advent of television and satellite revolution BR Group's forey into television serial production started in 1985. Today BR TV is one of India's leading television software production houses, having produced a bouquet of popular serials like Bahadur Shah Zafar, Chunni, Mahabharat, Sauda, Kanoon, Ek Se Badkar Ek, Crown Old Melodies, Jhansi Ki Rani, Rangoli, Mahabharat - Katha, Aurat, Main Dilli Hoon, Teri Meri Kahani (telefilm), Dharti - Aakash, Beta, Ghazal.

Ravi Chopra himself has a masters degree in English literature from Mumbai University. He is a voracious reader and is passionate about fast cars. For TV shoots, he starts as early as 7 am and works till 8 pm. He loves to play badminton every night for at least an hour. In spite of being busy with the hectic production schedules of multi-starrer Baghban and three new serials for DD and C&S channels, Chopra spoke to indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Kotian. Excerpts:

How has BR Films managed to be successful on the big screen as well as the small screen?

BR Chopra formed BR. Films in 1955 with a vision which culminated into a trailblazing celluloid odyssey. His life-long commitment to social themes and family values is reflected through his classic films.

BR TV has been an extension of the above mentioned philosophy. Our content combines entertainment with a social message that is apt for the existing social framework. Our serials have something different to say irrespective of the genre they belong to. My father dreamt of capturing the magnificence, the grandeur and the drama of the greatest epic of all times. Rated as the most popular TV programme on India's national network DoordarshanMahabharat had a viewership of 96 per cent - a record in the Guinness Book.

The recent success of Aap Beeti has also actually given a fillip to DD's declining viewership. The ratings were languishing at lower levels with TVRs touching a low of seven. Currently, Aap Beeti had seven slots in the Top 10 list of DD's programmes in week 1-46 of 2002. The programme has themes pertaining to supernatural powers, spirits and souls peppered with social awareness messages. Our characters have something different to say. The "spirits" within the stories are either fighting some injustice or tacking a social evil.

None of the characters are frivolous and we refrain from the avoidable pitfalls such as garish make-ups or weird costumes. There is no attempt to frighten the wits out of the viewers.

"Mythos have succeeded in all the possible slots and will continue to do well. They will make a big comeback!"

Do you think that mythos succeed in today's context?

I feel that the mythological genre has been squeezed dry by the multitude of serials that have been aired on DD and the C&S channels. Even today, there is a market for repeats and new extensions of age-old themes. However, they don't create the same frenzy that they used to create in the earlier days. Mythos have succeeded in all the possible slots and will continue to do well. I firmly believe that mythological serials will make a big comeback.

As a producer, why do you prefer DD to the satellite channels?

There is no preference for either. We have worked with both DD and satellite channels in the past. We have some projects with satellite channels in the near future - Sahara TV and Zee TV. In the past we have had some bad experiences with C&S channels because they tend to interfere with the creative aspects. We didn't have any problems with others such as Star TV. But, we would like to own the rights of our programmes and will not compromise on the same. Therefore, we are comfortable working with DD as we can capitalise on the repeat value of our programmes. We have got a very good response from the US and UK markets. We shall not be tied down to any particular group.

Has DD changed its unflinching stance in recent times?

DD officials have realised the market realities and are positioning themselves to increase revenues and assert their leadership position on the terrestrial front. After all, statistics show that DD has an edge over the C&S channels. The huge number of players have succeeded in offering a wide spectrum of choices for the viewers. DD is open to new ideas and never inteferes with creativity. It also gives producers a chance to experiment with different themes. Reviews happen at regular intervals and extensions are granted on the basis of the reponse.

Will you produce more television serials and thereby reduce the focus on films?

We shall continue producing serials as well as films. We are launching four new serials as well as our multi-starrerBaghban starring Amitabh Bachchan. The entertainment aspect is common to both mediums - home entertainment or big screen. Ultimately it is the quality of content that determines success. In both the mediums, we would like to be on top of all the production aspects.

What are your latest offerings? Is BR Films departing from its tested routines such as the mythos and sitcom themes?

BR Films is producing four new serials: Dhristi and Kaamna on Doordarshan; Asha Nai Asha on Sahara TV andShrimad Bhagwad to be aired on a C&S channel.

The serials provide entertainment and simultaneously highlight a social issue. Drishti questions the gender bias prevailing in the Indian society and puts forth the view that woman should have equal rights as men. Kaamnaprobes whether people still listen to their inner conscience. The slots for the telecast have not yet been finalised.

BR Films is also creating content for several C&S channels. Shrimad Bhagwad, a mythological which presents teachings from the Gita, will be telecast on a C&S channel. We are talking to several C&S channels for airing the serial. Asha Nai Asha on Sahara TV is a departure from the routine as it is built around the theme of scouting for talent. There are many talented people in different parts of the country. I had conceived the theme long back and presented it to Sahara TV. I feel as if my dream has come true.

Do you benefit from simultaneously producing serials and films?

BR Films is a complete production house that encompasses all the aspects of TV-film production. We like to control all the production aspects of whatever we produce - nothing should suffer due to non-availablity of cranes or cameras. Our equipment division was set up in such a way that it would assist the production department. There are synergies in everything that we do at any point for time.

"I don't differentiate between TV stars and film stars - both of them are equally talented and evolve with experience. TV stars evolve faster."

Do you see any kind of difference between the TV stars and the filmstars?

I don't differentiate between TV stars and filmstars - both of them are talented and evolve with experience. TV stars evolve faster as they portray different characters everyday on a regular basis. They also learn and mature faster. We had given Aman Verma (the current host of Star TV's game show Khulja Sim-Sim) a break in our serial Aurat. We have also taken him in our feature film Baghban. He has evolved as an actor over the last five years. Amitji has also evolved with his TV stint and KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati) has added another dimension to his wide repertoire.

Do you make a lot of money from re-runs of your properties?

Good content is always remunerative - it generates money in the present as well as in the future. Sony TV had bought the domestic rights of our feature films and the lease is due to expire soon. We shall renegotiate the terms and conditions and find another buyer. Various foreign channels have expressed interest in our properties and regularly buy the rights for a specified period of time. We always negotiate on a case-to-case basis. The expatriate Indian market is a huge opportunity for content manufacturers and distributors.

"The media buying phenomenon has affected our margins and threatened the quality of production"

How are DD producers affected by the phenomenon of media buying and aggressive negotiations by advertisers and agencies?

The media buying phenomenon has affected the margins and also threatened the quality of production. The advertisers and the ad agencies conduct aggressive negotiations and bargain as if there was no tomorrow. Well, the cost of production and DD dues work out to Rs 5,00,000 per 30-minute episode. This puts a severe pressure on our margins. Some producers compromise on quality but we don't do so. We recover our investments from extending the revenue streams to earnings from overseas rights. The advertisers must realise that they are investing in creating quality content. If these advertisers give us leeway, the production values would definitely become better and better. C&S producers such as Balaji Telefilms can create an ambience of glamour and grandeur because they know that they will get compensated for the same. DD producers need to do a balancing act. I suppose, one cannot get everything.

Do you have separate teams for TV serials and film production and direction?

At BR Films, we encourage creativity. We have a full-fledged team of writers, researchers, directors and production executives who are well-versed with various aspects of film and TV production. My team of assistant directors, who work with me on films, are involved with TV serials. I am familiar with their work and they understand my requirements and deliver the same. The creative team also understands what is needed of them - for instance in the case of mythos they have to relate everything to contemporary times in terms of learnings rather than blindly project the the aspects such as miracles and mere philosophy.

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