Will Karishma be the miracle to turn television viewership on its head?

It could be the small screen blockbuster of the decade. Or it could end up a dud. Whatever the outcome, Karishma - The Miracles of Destiny has already earned the distinction of having scripted a different path for meandering Indian television.

Born of the vision of a rich beyond dreams entrepreneur, who has successfully merged his personal dreams with the glitterati of the country, Karishma is the combination of a long cherished dream and a well calculated strategy. Indian television audiences have never had it so good. Foreign locales, lavish sets, high drama, exotic costumes, music, action and a line up of Bollywood stars - Sahara has zeroed in on the one weakness common to all Indians, packaged it in daily 24 minute doses and served it up free on a FTA channel!

The combination is potent enough for anonymous rivals to back a US author into filing a copyright infringement suit against Sahara and obtain a last minute stay on the telecast. While it may not stand up to the financial and political muscle of the Sahara empire, the suit has definitely put a spanner in the Karishma works for the present. Promotional and marketing activity, pegged at anything over Rs 10 crore by industry estimates, has had to be ground to a halt. But both the channel and the creative brains behind the show are confident that once Karishma takes its bow on the airwaves, nothing‘s gonna stop it!

True to Sahara tradition, no expense has been spared in the making of the serial. Producer Akashdeep is loath to putting a figure on how much Sahara is shelling out per episode. "It‘s to the channel‘s credit that they have denied me nothing," he gushes, "but right now, I am definitely going broke. But I don‘t mind?.it‘s a labour of love," he insists. This labour of love, taking into account shoots abroad, starry whims and high production values could well be eating into Rs three million or more per episode. Click here for a tete a tete with Karishma‘s creative director Akashdeep?

More than for Akashdeep, thus far a film and ad director of mediocre status, Karishma is a major gamble for Sahara. In a conditional access scenario, the FTA channel hopes to catch viewer fancy with this show, and hook the viewers for more with coming attractions like the Sridevi starrer - Hamari Bahu Malini Iyer. A Saira Banu produced Kisse Kahe Apna is also slotted in the 10 pm band, immediately after Karishma, three weeks from now. Clearly, no marketing effort‘s going to be too little at this point for Sahara. "We are pushing Karishma as one would a FMCG product, reaching out to as many people as possible," says Sahara TV president Satish Menon. Advertisers are now more enthusiastic than they have been in the past, says Menon.

Marico, Johnson & Johnson, Bajaj Auto, Cadilla, Camay and Mortein have been roped in to sponsor Karishma, while others like Godrej and Anherb are going in for spot buys. Karishma also marks the beginning of a different strategy. "We are moving away from being a mere FCT provider to being a total solutions provider," claims Menon. There will be ground level activities specific to geographical areas advertisers want to concentrate on, apart from tie ups and other promotions.

There‘s more than tie ups with Shoppers Stop, Ebony, Food World and D Mart outlets and painted trains and hoardings designed by ace designer Rahul Nanda ( Mega-promotions to ring in Sahara‘s ‘Karishma‘) that Karishma hopes to build its cache with viewers. After the initial burst of promo activity, the channel will start Karishma Clubs to build loyalty with the show. There will be mementos, coffee table books on Karishma and her lineage?.

Another viewer weak spot that Sahara has targeted is getting well known filmstars to endorse the show, appear on screen and wish their siblings who star in Karishma. Thus you have Kareena Kapoor, Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan appearing before the show starts, wishing Karisma, Sanjay Kapoor and Arbaaz Khan. Dil Ki Baatein is another smart move to rope in filmstars to talk about their lives in two minute interstitials, while promoting the next serial on air. Needless to say, Akashdeep‘s connections with the film world have come in handy.

All cause enough for rival and non FTA channels to take a second serious look at the channel thus far shrugged off as downmarket and unglamorous (despite good shows like Haqeeqat and Kagaar in the past). Karishma‘s timing (Menon says the 9.30 pm slot is when the audience is really hungry for shows) will clash with most of Star‘s shows like Sanjivani, Kasautii Zindagi Kay, Kehta Hai Dil and the upcoming suspense show on Sony, Naam Gum Jayega. Zee may escape some of the Karishma heat due to its Sunday-Wednesday programming strategy, but Miit could be hit. Although no one wants to admit their worries about Karishma outright, the copyright suit itself speaks volumes, point out industry insiders.

Simply put, Karishma is a film on TV, stretched for an estimated 220 episodes. There are 50 songs composed by Anu Malik, sung by the likes of Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz, dances choreographed by Saroj Khan, action by Ravi Dewan, looks created by designer Manish Malhotra and actors mouthing dialogue scripted by veteran Sachin Bhowmick. What more could a Hindi film buff ask for?

Sahara Media and Entertainment head Sumit Roy recently said that both Karishma and the Sridevi show would have a finite number of episodes and would not be unnecessarily be dragged on. But if the idea clicks, both Akashdeep and Menon acquiesce, it‘s a story that could be developed for a much longer time.

For conversations with Karishma actors, click here...

For a tete a tete with scriptwriter Sachin Bhowmick, click here...

For a chat with producer actor Sheeba, click here...

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