Television

"No company which does not have an attitude can ever be successful" : Ekta Kapoor Balaji Telefilms creative direc

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If she is not slogging away on the sets to shape up her TV serials, she is seeking divine protection and blessings.

"I just returned from a trip to the Kumbh Mela, Nashik, and Shirdi at 3 am last night. I had a meeting with an executive producer till 4 am. And now barely six to eight hours later, you are ready to shoot questions at me. Poor me!" she tells indiantelevision.com's Vickey Lalwani, when he meets her for an interview.

Then suddenly she sits up straight and says, "Ask me anything connected to work. No problem, even if I am half dead. Nothing gives me a bigger high than when I see how my characters can make people laugh, cry, angry and happy." Tea arrives, and she is all set for a tete-a-tete:

What makes Balaji Telefilms tick?

It's very simple.My company works on two principles. One, nothing is bigger than the programme, not even the company. Two, if you believe in me and really want to share my goal and vision, please join me; else don't show me your face. I have never told this to anybody before, but seriously, the company needs an attitude. No company which does not have an attitude can ever be successful.

It's said that you are a very tough taskmaster?

I know what you mean, even though you aren't saying it. But I'll answer you. Aren't you hinting at the things you get to hear that people here are scared of me, and if they leave, they get blacklisted etc? Is that possible? About 2000 people are working for Balaji Telefilms across the country, how can so many people be scared of me and yet give off their best? I am just paying the price of being successful and famous. Therefore, you hear all this loose talk against me. It's just that there is a strong sense of achievement in all the people who work under me.

And because they achieve professionally, they achieve personally. I want only those people to come to me who believe that Balaji Telefilms can make them a millionaire. If you want Rs 3000 per month and wanted to attend office for only five days in a week, please get out. I want people who understand that working four years in my company would be equivalent to working 40 years in some other. Most of my creative heads get more money than their counterparts in any other production house. Tomorrow, if they move away to some other company, they can easily demand a phenomenal rise over what they are getting from me. That's why they work 18-20 hours per day. They don't work that much because they are scared of me. Believe me, sometimes this backfires on me (smiles).

"The viewer needs to be jostled, then allowed to rest and put to sleep, and then jostled again with renewed vigour. That is the secret of serial making"

How?

Sometimes it becomes difficult to retain the talent. An entry into Balaji Telefilms is considered as the criterion of your skills. Consequently, these people are offered premium salaries by my rivals. and they get lured.

And those who don't?

Those who don't are sensible. They understand that stability in life is the most important thing. And that, they get it here. In a period of few years with me, some creative guys are drawing eight to ten times of what they were given at the time of joining.

"It is likely that if I show a mother leaving her kid at home and going to office, people would come out and say that I am breaking up homes"

What about the raise given to actors?

Not as much as creative heads, because creative heads allot more time and energy. But yes, we have a format of first leads and second leads. An actor belonging to the first lead gets a higher rise every year, say double, unlike the second leads who get a rise of 50-70 per cent.

What makes 'Kyunki...' tick?

Simple. Because every situation is quite real. And the same applies to Kahaani... as well. Many incidents in these serials have happened with each one of us. Believe me, there is nobody who does not like these serials. A section of self-made intellectuals are out to malign this show of mine, but have they succeeded? Even some actresses are jealous of this show. A beautiful 30-plus actress shot for a family serial of mine, but the channel strongly felt that she was looking old. Another young actress gave me dates, but later backed out. And now what are these actresses doing? They are painting the newspapers black and white saying that they are not made for the saas-bahu stuff!

Tell me honestly, don't you think that these two shows are dragging?

No. They are not dragging. If they were dragging, how would they have consistently achieved such fantastic TRPs? The basic thing is that these serials have had many peaks, and believe me, there are more to come. By peaks I mean, the high drama and the surprise element which leaves you amazed. Now surely, you can't keep peaking a serial every week. Then, the surprise element would fade away. The viewer needs to be jostled, then allowed to rest and put to sleep, and then jostled again with renewed vigour. That is the secret of serial making.

Still, some characters in 'Kyunki....' are shown in excess?

I agree, but do you think that things are rosy with me? Sometimes, I am helpless. Like Smriti is all ready to deliver in mid September. She is the backbone of Kyunki. She is there in at least three or four scenes every day. I have to underplay her character for a while, and shift the focus probably on to Gomzi and Karan.

How were 'Kyunki' and 'Kahaanii' conceived?

There's an old lady called Amma in my house. Looking at her, I realized how we tend to ignore and neglect the elderly people around us. That's how Kyunki... took shape. Then I wanted to make a modern Ramayan. Doesn't every home have a Ram? That's how Kahaani... took shape.

What makes 'Kasauti...' tick? How was it conceived?

Unrequited love between Prerna and Anurag. I was inspired by a real life incident. A friend of mine ditched his girlfriend to marry as per his parents' wishes. I was disturbed. Why couldn't the other woman be positive? Prerna was born. Why can't the wife be negative? Komollika was born.

What about 'Kaahin Kissii Roz'?

Kaahin Kissi Roz seemed to be nearing an end... but it was resurrected. Isn't that the first part of your question? (laughs) I wonder whether you or anybody else knows that this serial is a visual delight... I get letters from men going ga-ga over Ramola Sikand and some middle-aged wives jokingly complaining that their husbands are not paying enough attention to them! The TRPs had dropped sopme months back, but over the last few weeks, I have figures and letters to prove that the show is rocking. As to how it was conceived, well I wanted to make a highly entertaining filmi stuff. Some revenge, suffering hero, heroine, villain, suspense. that's it!

What is the source from where every serial of your's germinates?

There is no fixed source. There are some people who relate to personal experiences only. There are some people who relate to what they read or see or even hear. I am a combo of all these people (laughs).

Does a good equation with the channel help?

Of course, it helps. For instance, I have a good equation with Star Plus. But mind you, I have to deliver the TRPs. If my show does not deliver, my relationship would not help me to swim in smooth waters. I might even go for a toss.

So there is no such thing called as PR?

There is PR, there is a greater degree of comfort, they know that I'll turn it around, they trust me. They immediately come forward with ideas, we sit together, we discuss, we argue, the sole aim is to better the show not only when TRPs fall but rather, with the passing of every single day. Today, serial making is not autocracy. It's meeting on common grounds. Why should a channel sail on a boat which does not know how to wade its way through troubled waters?

Why have you shied away from Doordarshan?

I have not shied away from DD. It's just that their policies keep changing, this creates lot of confusion, misunderstandings and stress. Anyway, I am working with them again. I hope that things will be better this time. I believe they are quite pepped up.

There is a school of thought that your serials tend to focus on the denigration of women...

(Interrupts) It is not necessary that those who care for their family are the backward type of women. It is likely that if I show a mother leaving her kid at home and going to office, people would come out and say that I am breaking up homes. Think of it, my serials have so much clout (laughs). To tell you the truth, I am the favourite target of the so-called critics.

How long will you continue to make soaps?

As long as they last.

And how long would that be?

This genre may suffer a slight dent, but not at least for the next three years. This is my vision. Face it. Indian television is mainly catered by women. The television is on when the man leaves in the morning for his office, and often, remains so even after he is snoring in the night! Women like to see 'saas-bahu', 'bhai-bhabhi', 'ma-beti', 'nanand-devrani' relationships, the gossip, the misunderstandings, the jealousy, and above all, the unity in adversity times. KBC was a stray case. Even before KBC it was soaps all the way.

Weren't Hum Log and Buniyaad soaps? Please don't get misguided by the look of those programmes. Keeping with times, only the look has changed, a few new permutations and combinations have come in but the gist remains the same. It would be foolish if I switch over on some other track and allow my competitors to perform a dance of victory on an empty field!

And after it suffers a slight dent?

Without stopping my soap product, I'll dish out something else in addition. I am not a dud.

You told me last time that nowadays you don't like comedy, so how about making a theme for a social cause?

You really want me to do that? Or, are you pulling my leg? Didn't I tell you last time how much I was panned for showing that rape scene in Kahaani? And why had I shown that rape scene? To inform the people that they should be wary of domestic rape. Alongside, films like Bandit Queen and Mirch Masala whch were more objectionable than what I had shown, were labeled as creatve pieces of art!

Rajeshwari has come back in 'Kahaani...' but not so long ago, she had been thrown out?

Rajeshwari was not thrown out. It's just that her track had ended and she was not required for a couple of days. It is essential to have different tracks going in a daily, else you'll get fed up of watching the same characters every day.

Rewa Babbar- the 'Kyun Hota Hai Pyarrr' girl who came in as Karan's girlfriend- in 'Kyunki...' was replaced after seven-eight episodes. Why?

Star Plus wanted it that way. They said that Rewa looked very positive and the character is now going to acquire negative overtones. So... (shrugs her shoulders). TV-serial making cannot be autocratic, it has to be meeting on common grounds.

There is a buzz that Amarr Upadhyay will come back in 'Kyunki...'?

(Smiles). No such thing is going to happen.

Why did Sweta Keswani opt out of 'Kahaani...'?

That's something to do with her personal life. It was her own decision. I can't throw much light on this.

The stage had been set for Ketki Dave to come back. Why it didn't materialise?

Remuneration was the main reason. She wanted something more than my company policy permitted. But we have mended the bridge on a personal level. Recently, she even attended one of our parties.

Why has 'Kahaani...' taking a 20-year leap?

That's happening from the first week of September. It's required. Doesn't life move ahead? Mark my words, Parvati (Sakshi Tanwar) will become exceedingly popular in this new format. If you recall, the 20-year leap in Kyunki... added instant fizz to Tulsi's (Smriti Malhotra's) character.

What's this 15-year old girl filing a public interest litigation that your serials show women in very poor light? The girl appeared in person in court and said she feels that your serials propogate that you cannot trust yopur sister, sister-in-law, mother and even your wife!

I knew you had kept this for last. You couldn't avoid that, could you? What can I say? (shrugs her shoulders and smiles) Let's conclude and have some water-melon juice.

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