"Be it following a formula or breaking the mould, the result has to be better TRPs" : Monisha Singh - UTV creative director (Part I)

We promised you more on her, and here it is... the second part of the interview with the young UTV creative director Monisha Singh. In the concluding part of the interview to's Vickey Lalwani, Singh throws light on creativity - her own and that at UTV - what creative people can do and cannot, television channel interactions et al.

Excerpts :

How do you grow your creative skills?

Reading books, films, plays and meeting and observing interesting people. Interacting with other people knowing what they think, how they react, what they feel, helps spin off ideas, situations, plots. I am an impulsive people observer. I keenly watch whatever is happening around me. I absorb it. I choose to learn from every living moment. Nature inspires me. I introspect a lot. I do a lot of disjointed thinking, then I move on to the linear thought process. I try to be alive to the now, the trends, the likes and dislikes currently.

How do you develop your characters?

I always try to make my characters different from what has been seen on television, I like making them memorable, identifiable. Kehta Hai Dil, a show I developed and am in charge of at UTV, has two villains - the Mayor and his wife - as its pivots. They are villains of the first order, yet they are funny in a dark manner. One has to take care to give them nuances, quirks, which help them stand out. On top of it all, I brainstorm with people, with my team to fine tune the characters.

How did you develop the character of Mayor saheb?

Most television soaps are dominated by female characters. The male has a limited role to play. We wanted to change that equation by giving a character with negative shades prominence. Instead of making him the usual black character one thought of adding certain quirks to his character and making him slightly comic but at the same time extremely sharp and shrewd. We hence placed him in a position of power and strength and villainy. The character of Mayor was basically created to counter Aditya Pratap Singh the hero, the honest cop.

In his personal life, the mayor, while he is dominated by his wife at home he is a long-term thinker and he will let his wife be the bad one while he master minds the whole plan. I feel males have a lot to do in most households while it is only the mother-in-law who is projected as the bad one. And we showed this through the character of the Mayor who is actually the man who is going about on his path of destruction, be it in his civic duties or his personal life.

Is there enough scriptwriting talent available today? Do you work closely with your scriptwriter?

Yes and no both. While there are some very good writers in the industry, we definitely need a lot of fresh thinking to come in. In the drama category one finds a lot of talented people, but if one were to look in for example the comedy or the thriller genre the number of talented and good writers are far and few.

But overall even though television is a writer's medium it's concentrated in the hands of a few. And in turn the pressures on our writers are tremendous which in turn leads to high burn out rates. Therefore there is a strong need for fresh talent to come in. But there is a lot of talent that exists out there and it's a question of finding the right people and training them.

We need to have training schools or workshops that can train people interested in writing for television. There is a method a formulae for writing for television just like there exists in other fields as well. Your company runs a course and workshop Qalam. We see it as an effort in that direction but there needs to be a lot done as far as scriptwriting is concerned.

Yes, I work closely with my script writers on all my shows. That is the first step towards making a show and also they form the base of all shows and it's imperative to have good writers on any show.

"Overall even though television is a writer's medium it's concentrated in the hands of a few. And in turn the pressures on our writers are tremendous which in turn leads to high burn out rates"

Has age worked in your favour or against you in your career?

Some people might think I am too young for what I am doing, but I believe more than age it is the experience, the exposure, talent and risk taking ability which are important. Today, there are a lot of young achievers in television, in fact in every sphere. Some of us have taken it up and single mindedly become successful.

Yes, my age can go against me, because a lot of people are a lot more senior to me. It can be frustrating when somebody without meeting you says you are too young to be doing what you are. But I take things in my stride and take it as a compliment because I have managed to reach where I have at a young age.

Coming to creativity at UTV. How does UTV go about enhancing the collective creative within?

UTV as an organisation invests a lot in creativity. It has spread its wings in different fields of creativity be it advertising, television and now films. We have on a regular basis brainstorming sessions and churning up of ideas.

We have icons in creative excellence, whether it is Alyque Padamsee or a Prahlad Kakkar, coming in and sharing their experiences and learnings with us. The sessions they have with us are extremely interactive and help open the windows of our mind to fresher thoughts.

We have workshops where we are exposed to the works of the masters of all time in film making like Satyajit Ray, Ghatak, Hitchcock, Renoir, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Rossilini etc.

Creativity is also about team work so we have corporate team building workshops which help in the bonding exercise. Like we had one on fear, where we had to walk on pieces of sharp glass. It's all in the mind, if we can overcome the mindblocks, we can do what we want, we were told at the workshop. The glass symbolised the mindblocks. We had to motivate each other, help each other out. Most of us succeeded walking over the glass without cutting or hurting ourselves. It was a wonderful experience.

Changing tracks. Do you think that a creative person gets enough space in today's times when channels interfere at the drop of a hat?

What you term as interference is actually involvement. At the end of the day we are all working as a team to make a product work. A channel undertakes a lot of research of what works and what does not. Therefore, they provide the creative team with a lot of value-addition which can only work in the favour of the show.

Will UTV ever consider producing bold programming?

I don't think that would be anything new. Indian television has done bold quite a bit of bold stuff. Like Sailaab was bold; it had a roaring extramarital affair. Lipstick is bold, Astitva… Ek Prem Kahani is bold. But surely, we can't have smooching and sex scenes like in the West; we have to keep the Indian sensibilities in mind. Since we don't have censorship on our heads, that does not imply we cross all barriers and show anything and everything. You might be seeing such stuff on MTV or [V], but at the end of the day, UTV is a production house catering to family entertainment.

Can creative people become business people?

It depends on an individual's mindset and mental make-up. If one is inclined towards learning and growing beyond the creative sphere then there is no stopping him or her to wear a business hat as well. They can bring their creativity into businesses. Look at Karan Johar he is a perfect blend of creative and business. He makes cinema that fetches him pots of money. On the other hand I feel that all business people need to be creative in their own fields. a good business person has to constantly be thinking and innovating to keep ahead of the competition and can use some creative ways to think how to go about doing that.

Creative people you admire?

Ekta Kapoor for the ideas she gets in her serials, her levels of passion and conviction in them. She is a true achiever. Raveena Raj Kohli. She has proved herself in every fields be it as a creative director, channel CEO and now even in the field of news. Satyajit Ray for the quality of films he made, Samir Nair for the dizzying heights he has taken Star Plus to.

Charlie Chaplin for being the complete film person - he was a rare comedian who not only financed and produced all his films but was the author, actor, director and soundtrack composer of them as well, Filmmaker Eisenstein for the clever use of montages and symbolism in his films such as Battleship Potemkin.

I also admire Enid Blyton, I have read almost all her books they are beautifully written and make for excellent reading for children. I am a huge fan of Prannoy Roy. He is extremely charismatic. And if you can put this on record, I admire Ronnie Screwvalla for being a visionary. I am not trying to impress anyone but this is a fact. Working with him makes you grow on both professional and personal fronts as well. He started a lots of trends in India - brought in animation, started the first cable network in India, etc. He does not essentially like to walk on a proven path, he loves to take risks.

Earlier, you said creative people can become business people. What about you?

Of course, I can. I am not an exception.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I breathe, sleep, eat and dream television so I definitely see myself continuing contributing to the success of television.

You have the looks and age in your favour. Ever thought of becoming an actress?

(Laughs) You couldn't avoid that one, could you? What a question! Not really. But thanks for the compliment, anyway (laughs again).

Tell me, can a creative director become a programming head?

Definitely. A programming head is the professional who funnels all the programming coming on to the channel along with his/her team of producers, creative professionals. The buck stops with him/her on content. He/she has to not only have a sense of creativity, but also be alert to the strategy, business and advertising angles. She/he has a large scale canvas perspective on content. A creative director's job is supposed to be restricted to the creative look feel, storylines of the shows. The roles between the two get fuzzy at times, in fact often a programming head has to wear a creative director's hat and likewise. At the end of the day, they have to get together to produce programming that brings in audiences and revenues.

Buzz is that this creative director is going to become the programming head of a broadcasting channel?

Is that so? Well?

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