Television

'TV, as a medium, has to go through its own catharsis' : Anurradha Prasad - B.A.G. Films Ltd managing director

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In the 1980s, when Anurradha Prasad, a jeans and T-shirt clad twenty-something journalist, went to cover Parliament proceedings, senior print journalists looked upon her rather curiously - not to say enviously. But young Prasad was determined to prove herself in the up and coming electronic medium. After learning the ropes in the erstwhile PTI TV and Observer News Channel, Anurradha carved a niche for herself as a programmer and bagged her first slot on DD with Aaj Ki Baat.

After having floated B.A.G Films, Prasad got down to serious business. She took the news and current affairs route and then added infotainment to her repertoire. Today, she is the brain behind one of the fastest growing production houses in the country. Not just that, a look at her programming list proves that she is one of the hottest programmers who is tuned in to the audience's pulse across different genres- be it soaps, docudramas, current affairs or crime.

With more than 1,500 hours of diversified content, Prasad has always broken new ground in terms of concept, treatment or TRPs. So, be it a Rihaee on Sony, a Sansani or Red Alert on Star News or a soap like KumKum on Star Plus. And apart from the programming part of it, Managing Director Prasad is also involved in running and expanding the company. Thinking ahead of her times, Prasad believes convergence is the future as she plans to take her company ahead with 30 sec and one minute content on mobiles and broadband.

Prasad gives Indiantelevision.com's Seema Pherwani the gen on what's happening at B.A.G. Films. Excerpts from an interview:

You started off as a journalist way back in the late 1980s. So how did you turn to television which was in the nascent stage then?

Since my school day I always wanted to be in the media, but I didn't realise that I would get into television. I started off as a trainee journalist with PTI news and my dream was to work with The Times of India and the erstwhile Sunday magazine. One fine day, Shashi Kumar who was then heading PTI TV just asked me - Why don't you get into TV and I said to myself 'why not'? Then I joined PTI TV which was one of the first production houses in the country. I moved on to become an assistant producer, and worked on a business programme on DD called Money Matters.

After learning the ropes there I moved on to the Observer News Channel. Those were the early days of electronic journalism and it was real fun because we were experimenting with the medium. On the other hand, it was also a fight with senior print journalists. They were not able to digest that a twenty-something jeans-clad reporter in sneakers could enter Parliament with her camera. So, I remember, there was a huge ruckus the first time I went to cover Parliament proceedings. But the writing was on the wall - the younger generation was all ready to take on the print order and TV was going to emerge as a more aggressive medium.

How did you get around to floating your own company?

Some time later, the Observer News Channel shut shop, they probably didn't realise how the medium would grow. I pitched them the idea of starting off a production house. They gave me a small room in the Delhi Observer house and I started off on my own. The deal was: if it didn't work, they would shut it down.

I did a programme called Fiscal Fitness on Zee TV (1991) and later did a few business programmes which Pritish Nandy anchored. So, I had honed my skills and proved a point. TV was booming and things were happening and later I decided to move on. I then landed up floating a company. Three names were rejected but later I went on to call it B.A.G Films Ltd i.e Bhagwan Allah and God.

You got your first break with DD. Was it a conscious decision to stick to news and current affairs?

Well, since I was based in Delhi, I concentrated more on news and current affairs. Later, I also went on to do more investigative programmes like the Lens Eye.

Over time I also ventured into infotainment, so there was a cookery show Zaika ka Safar then musicals like Picnic Antakshari on DD. After two years we were thinking of joining hands with a corporate structure like Subhash Ghai's Mukta Arts, but then things did not work out.

'Nowadays, I am concentrating more on running a corporate organisation, since I am much more responsible to my investors'

Your recent docu-drama Rihaee which deals with crime against women on Sony Television has created quite a buzz. A few years ago you did a show called Haqeeqat on Sahara, which dealt with human rights violations. So, was Haqeeqat the first step towards Rihaee?

Yes in a way. Haqeeqat was the first step towards Rihaee. Haqeeqat

taught me that there was a huge audience waiting to be explored. And everything is not just nice and beautiful. It was the first reality show of its kind which managed to shake people up.

Rihaee deals with a sensitive topic i.e crime against women. So, we have dealt with the subject with care and sensitivity. Also, since it's on a mass entertainment channel, the stories have been very sleekly packaged and we are also offering a positive solution to the problem.

Does it worry you that it has been pitched at a time slot that will directly compete with the most popular serial of our times, Kyunki...?

I am not looking at it as competition. Kyunki is a landmark show, on a saleable platform and is a habit for viewers. It has created history by being a number one show for so many years. Also, one has to keep in mind there is also a lot of difference in Star and Sony platform ratings. We are targeting people who are looking for an alternative to Saas Bahu serials.

I hope to set in motion a paradigm shift in terms of programme pitching and watching. As far as the success of the show goes, I think in today's scenario, no content aggregator can say that this will work or not, simply, because TV's such an evolving and dynamic medium and one has to re-engineer every second. Viewers are fickleminded and the remote is in their hands!

What do you think a programme like Rihaee will achieve for general entertainment channels and for people, in general?

I hope the show takes the medium back to what it was earlier expected to be. The protagonist team in the serial, led by Rajeshwari and Nakul, take you through a story and help the woman find a solution to the problem. A show like this is also all about viewer interactivity. Our phone lines have been ringing incessantly with women willing to share their real-life stories.

In our country, the biggest culprit is the government machinery, which has failed to help out people.

Was Haqeeqat (on Sahara) a show before its time, considering it was not able to shake up the government machinery or solve too many problems?

That was the sad part of it. If it was on a bigger platform like Star maybe it would have achieved more. Also, there was to be a follow up by the channel, but later they changed focus to other entertainment shows with bigger stars.

What makes B.A.G. Films tick and which shows have proved to be a paradigm shift for you?

I always do a paradigm shift within the organisation. The USP of my company is that it is a multi-genre production house. So, if I do a Kumkum well, I would also like to deliver a Rozana or a Haqeeqat well, which has been one of the most critically acclaimed shows. I can claim that a Sansani on Star News has emerged as a number one show across the news channels then a Kumkum has helped turnaround the afternoon viewing. If Red Alert is an investigative show then Poll Khol is a political satire.

What have your two shows Sansani and Red Alert been able to achieve for the channel? And why has the channel commissioned two shows in the same genre for you?

Sansani is a crime show and Red Alert is a huge investigative show. Both the shows have done extremely well for the channel. I try to package my shows in the most entertaining manner. Also, when I do entertainment programming my news background comes into the picture and when I do news programming my entertainment background helps. So, a show like Poll Khol which is political satire was structured so that everybody could laugh and enjoy it. Also, for all our shows we use our library to the maximum.

You share a special relationship with Star considering you have more than three shows on Star News and two on Star Plus?

I do share a good relationship with the network, but if my shows don't do too well the relationship will not help.

The selling rate of crime shows across channels has really gone up. What do you attribute this to?

Television, as a medium, has to go through its own catharsis. The way crime shows are being packaged today, they are able to prick the sensibility of viewers - whether good, bad or ugly. If they do that then they've done their job. As a programming person, I can say that news is being presented by anchors in the most entertaining way. I don't know what will sell tomorrow.

Also, I believe the numbers game and fight for eyeballs between the news channels has also led to the proliferation of the genre. News channels are trying to show things which are stretching everybody's sensibilities. Also, with the increase in the crime rate our people are in a crisis and these shows fill the gap.

'With 'Rihaee', I hope to set in motion a paradigm shift in terms of programme pitching and watching'

Your show Kumkum on Star Plus had seen a dip in the TRPs recently. Why so?

The TRPs had dropped because of the change in the plot. The Wadhwa family face financial problems and have to leave the Wadhwa house. So, people were not ready to accept that. The lesson is that TV has to be entertaining and at the same time aspirational.

What makes the serial tick, as it has been the key driver for Star in the afternoon band?

I would say the serial has worked because it doesn't show a person marrying three different people. It's very true to its characters. Kumkum is the best bahu and there is no major scheming going on in her mind. She's a woman of today who's able to serve as an anchor for the family. The serial is actually based on a real simple story which has found a place in people's hearts.

How much credit would you take for your successful shows?

TV is a medium for units. It's all about team effort and I am only the team leader. Though I try to re-engineer myself, I have my own limits.One can't always go on doing all the things all the time - 365 days a year. Then my people will feel claustrophobic. I give my creative people the direction they require and I ensure that they do their jobs well. Nowadays, I am concentrating more on running a corporate organisation since I am more responsible to my investors.

What's the structure of the organisation ?

I have a board that has people like the former cabinet secretary Surendra Singh, my husband Rajiv, corporate lawyer Pallavi Shroff. I also have financial institutions' nominees on the board as the guiding force. The day to day management is handled by me and my team, which means I have a CFO and a MD.

How does the company's bottomlines look like?

B.A.G. Films is a debt-free company. We had raised funds through an IPO for our Convergence Studio and the Media School, both of which are up and running. Our media school is one of its kind where we offer post-graduate course on broadcast journalism, media management, in the art & craft of TV.

But there are so many such schools in the country. Why one more?

Half of the schools are just (teaching) shops. We offer a full-fledged course with theory and practical work. We have the best people from the industry with us and Subodh Lal, who was the president of Zee earlier, is the dean.

What kind of movies is B.A.G. Films producing?

We are working on two films, which are at the scripting stage. One of the films is based on a novel by Taslima Nasreen called the French Lover. My aim is to make films that will be entertaining and watchable.

What is the company's growth strategy?

I see myself as a content aggregator and will like to enter newer areas. So, from TV we will be moving on to films. B.A.G. is also working on providing content on mobiles and on broadband. With convergence happening, we will be moving towards 30 sec and one minute content on all platforms. So, we'll be doing things like cricket updates, news and stock market details etcetera.

Is there any likelihood of a network buying a stake in your company?

Right now there's nothing of that sort happening.

Photos by Sanjay Sharma/Indiapix Network

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