Television

"We need to build up strong emotional sagas on Sony" : Venita Coelho - SET's VP: new product development

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'You see tourists stroll off hand in hand with children - and you wonder - am I being paranoid or is there more going on here than meets the eye? Unfortunately, there is. Paedophilia has taken root in Goa. It just made me angry and I realised I had to do something about it," that's Venita Coelho for you. A fervent womanist, who joined Sophia Polytechnic to get an idea of media as a young girl.

She started her career with television software house UTV and has a long career history in the Hindi film and television industry as a writer and director. She has written over 12 film scripts - for directors like Santosh Sivan, has lectured on writing for several years at the Social Communications Department of Sophia College in Mumbai.



In television, she has over 800 hours of programming to her credit as a writer - work that was done for Indian, Malaysian and Singapore television.

After being a Mumbai person for several years, she moved to Goa three years ago, in search of an alternative lifestyle, and lived in an old Portuguese house along with four dogs. Interestingly, what got her back to the daily rigour of programming is Sony's latest turn around soap Jassi.

In this interview with indiantelevision.com's Trupti Ghag, she spoke about her career, her decisions and her new role as Sony Entertainment Television's vice president- new product development.

Excerpts:

The media industry is known to take its toll on professionals , so the question isn't really why you left television some years ago but what got you back?

Jassi got me back, literally! Although I have been off television for a while now, I haven't been out of the loop completely. I have been doing films; a couple of Pantaloon films as well as a big one in the pipeline- Musafir. When Sony contacted me, I was least interested in television. After moving out from UTV, I hadn't even watched television for three years. But they sent me the tapes of Jassi and here I am.

 

And why is it that you decided to take a hiatus from television?

Although it seems like ages that I have stopped working for television, it has just been around three-four years that I decided to bid adieu to television. It was the time when television started becoming a watered down version of its former self and I couldn't help any in changing it.

Now that I am back and I am in a position where I can influence, I am here for some time.

 

What is going to be your action plan?

The programming is going to be more research driven. We are getting in new energies, ideas, basically getting the fizz back. What I plan to do immediately is build up storytelling. I have been called in to offer fresh perspective. I haven't been watching television at all for some time now, so I should be able to do that. The company has assigned me to develop as many new ideas as I can before the industry gets the better of me. (laughs)

 

Have you actually managed to catch some television? What is your opinion about the current fare on the tube?

I am aghast. It's gone to being regressive and that's a sad trend. But with Jassi being successful, there is is a pointer to the future that trends formed are likely to change.

 

Since you are back from a stint with films, what is the essential difference you find between films and television?

By and large, films have a structure in place; you have a story worked out, while the same cannot be said about television. Television today doesn't really have a script to go by. I think in about five years' time, the structure should be in place.



Plus, television is so deadline driven! That's not a bad thing necessarily, but it wears people out very fast. So the fatigue factor is high.

 

What is your core team like? Are there any new additions to the team?

I think the team that we currently have is more than enough. Since I am in charge of the new development, I will be working a core team of two-three executive producers. There is an addition to the team, a freelance filmmaker Salil Sand, who will be working with me closely.

 
"It is a static talent pool in the industry, until and unless there are new and innovative ideas discussed and interaction encouraged we are just getting same ideas thrown over an over again"
 

What is it that you will be working on?

Daily soaps to begin with. It is a daily habit; you cannot do away with it. Unending sagas are really the order of the day (laughs).

 

You don't seem to be too convinced doing the soaps.

No, that is not the case. Soaps are a tried and tested formula and they haven't just been a three year old formula. It's Balaji's art of storytelling that has become popular but I see it spawning bad clones. What I aspire to bring in is a new era of storytelling. Something that is not riddled with clichés. Use cinema as a metaphor probably and get something within the parameters of the staple soap diet.

 

What about experimenting with new genres?

I think Sony has experimented with quite a few genres and we have many long running successful shows like CID and Heena. We have a strong weekend franchise. We are planning to revamp Heena soon.

What we need to build up is strong emotional sagas. We are definitely looking at that in the near future.

I would personally want to build up the telefilm genre, but unfortunately the market isn't as conducive. We need to look at the business aspect as well.

 

Do television shows work according to a rule book? Is there an evident need for a Censor Board?

By and large, the television industry follows a three-part code. The first is the government code, the second is the channel code and third is the personal code.

I don't particularly think that there is a need for a separate censor board for television, but what I think should be eradicated is display of superstition. But again, I think it is a personal choice, as directors like B P Singh won't indulge in propagating superstitions.

 

If you were to describe Sony as a channel, how would you?

It is a young and dynamic channel.The channel is not traditionalist. It is full of people who will want to bend the rules, carve a niche in different genres and yet offer staple fare as well. We at Sony aim to engage the viewers and keep them thrilled.

 

What are you doing to ensure creativity?

We have started organising workshops in tandem with writing. Just recently, we held a workshop on the thriller genre.

It is a static talent pool in the industry, until and unless there are new and innovative ideas discussed and interaction encouraged. Right now, we are just getting the same ideas over and over again. You need to have a strong theoretical base to work upon, otherwise you get stuck in the routine fare.

 

Do you feel there is a bias towards women professionals in the entertainment medium?

In television, no. Since television is a relatively new field, and satellite television barely over a decade old in India, it was established on a seemingly corporate structure. People with drive can excel in television. It is difficult to manage both home and work and there are no concessions for women, but that's fair enough.



The same cannot be said about films, though. It is a little difficult for a woman to break though the patriarchal hierarchy. Plus, the workers too are male and not used to taking orders from 'womenfolk', so that can be a major problem.

 
"Zee has a lot of sleeping loyalty"
 

What has been your personal experience?

Mumbai is a different story altogether. Here, a women can juggle a career and family. With me, I have been able to single mindedly focus on my career. I could work when I wanted and take off when I wished.

I have a great support system right now. I have left my parents in charge of my place and my dogs. I go to Goa every weekend.

 

Television is considered a woman's medium. As a woman, how would you rate the portrayal of women on the small screen?

I am aghast by the portrayal of women in the media. It's regressive, totally absurd. That's the reason why a simple story like Jassi is a breath of fresh air. We need to make a conscientious effort to change the way television is portraying women. Not only is the portrayal unreal, the stark black and white portrayal is quite unbecoming.

 

What really helped 'Jassi' was the marketing spin, don't you agree?

Agreed that the marketing spin really helped a lot, especially so many innovative ideas like building up the curiosity, flash mobs and SMS. But I insist that it was an extremely well planned product and has a good story. It went on to dispel the myth that you need a big star to make it big, Sony got a complete nobody and look how well the show has done. That's all because of its storyline.

 

What is your opinion about the competition, both Star Plus and Zee?

Star Plus has built up loyalty over the past three years with its soaps. They have really caught on with the people, have become a sort of habit. As far as countering that goes, I think we are the alternative to Star Plus programming. We have already built up the weekend franchise and will work on the weekdays.

Zee has a lot of sleeping loyalty, which I think it has to take count of.

 

What happens to your production company FireHorse now?

It was established as a dream of two women, me and Deepti Datt. We produced two movies Bombay Stories and Monsters Under Bed, under the banner. We got a great response for both. I have received bouquets as well as brickbats. We have received monetary support, people just poured in money to help us tell our stories. Even now, we have a Canadian women filmmakers' organisation, who have offered to help us out with the equipment.

We have a couple of films in the pipeline, and are awaiting funds. We should start working on them in some months' time.

 

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