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The Optimistic Trio

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Maybe the new saying should be "A company is known by the men that run it.

" The camaraderie between Optimystix‘s trio - Rajiv Vyas, Sanjiv Sharma and Vipul D Shah seems so endearing that you are almost tempted to call it an ideal marriage. Correction - Courtship.

Indiantelevision.com‘s Trupti Ghag met up with the format show specialists over an elaborate brunch to talk about their company, its future plans and more. Excerpts from the freewheeling conversation that followed...

‘We are optimistic --- really, even our blood group is B+,‘ Optimystix‘s CEO Rajiv Vyas jokes. But pun on the quirky coincidence aside, the trio is indeed excited about the future of the company.

And why shouldn‘t they be? Besides bagging the co-production assignment for Fremantle Media‘s bestselling format American Idol, the production house is also upbeat about its plans to expand.

"We are going to launch a post production facility soon. We are currently scouting for locations for the studio. In addition, we are also looking at upping our strength in the next few months," Optimystix director Sanjiv Sharma offers.

The year 2004 has certainly been an eventful year for the company that was founded by Sharma and Shah in October 2000. In a move to ‘derisk‘, the production house took a leap into the fiction arena with a Yeh Meri Life Hai and now is in close talks with a European broadcaster to produce a show.

"Despite what other people say, we didn‘t quite enjoy being known as just the format show specialists. As a professional agency, we need to grow and hence when the opportunities came by, we grabbed it," Vyas says as a matter of fact.

The quaint company, located in a scenic Mumbai suburb Versova, was launched with the objective of bringing quality and entertaining software to the television industry.

"But we wouldn‘t cross out a foray into the Hindi film industry too," both Vyas and Sharma sing out in unison.

Right now, the trio and their core team of chosen seven have their hands full with six shows on hand, two of which are already on air and four more set to launch. In their next six months agenda they have two Zee shows and two kids shows. The trio is hush-hush about the kiddie show though.

Its my life... "It makes you feel very proud, especially when the supposed elite of society laud the show." But doesn‘t the latest Yeh Meri Life Hai have an urban milieu? "Thanks to television‘s penetration, the urban market is growing. Any place where you get satellite television, the audience has an urban mindset," Sharma says.

Shah, however, has a different take on it: "The show can‘t be really typecast as an urban show. The show depicts a constant struggle between family values and the aspirations of the protagonist."

Wasn‘t it piggy back riding on ‘Jassi‘s model? "Yes and No. It is an underdog story alright, but Pooja is a very believable character, not a superwoman. She makes mistakes, she lies to save herself," says Shah.

But why a fiction show? Sharma, pointing to Shah, says, "We have got a Mr Fiction here. He has produced Dekh Bhai Dekh. I have directed Lekin for Sab TV."

"We were given a mandate to do something different and looking at the current demographics of India, it was a no brainer that a youth oriented serial will have greater acceptance," Sharma says, about the reasons behind the conceptualisation of Sony‘s Yeh Meri Life Hai.

"It is Gursheel Walia‘s concept and idea. Initially we thought it would be a story of seven friends, but then during a brainstorming session with Tarun Katial (Sony‘s executive V-P programming and response), we (Sharma and Vyas) thought that we need a protagonist. If the story is narrated through her eyes, it would be a great identification," Shah offered in explanation.

"Besides making a television soap, we are also doing our little bit for the young generation as a whole," Sharma says.

Is the role of a producer ghost written by the channel? "If you think you are being pushed around, then nothing can convince you otherwise. But I don‘t think that you are ever being asked to make changes," Sharma enunciates.

"As a producer you put in effort and money. But you‘ll need a buy in, while at the Hollywood level, it is a studio or financiers, at the television level you have a broadcaster. You are using their platform to showcase your product and, therefore, you need to be in conjunction with that platform. There has got to be some points where minds have to meet," he adds.

What about the fickle TRPs not being kind during the last couple of weeks? "One of the ways of getting feedback is TRPs. So you pretty much know what is working well and what is not. While you stick to your convictions, which is your story idea, you tailor it in a way that it becomes more palatable. But if you really look at the serial, it has stayed consistent with the story. There might have been some tactical changes," Vyas offers.

So it is all about trust, really. "Sometimes you are asked to make changes, but they are within the boundaries of the basic story," Shah says.

"A professional production house is never asked to do something. All that the broadcaster does is share the research. Since the broadcaster has already appointed research bodies, instead of duplicating the exercise, a production house has to rely on a broadcaster‘s research mechanism. And once the research is formatted, you know what direction to take," Sharma elaborates.

Vyas has a different take to it. "A large part of the feedback comes from the type and quantum of advertising and part of it comes from subscription revenues. So, any programming is designed keeping in mind what is the most acceptable and what is the more marketable product. So when you see that there is a gap in a market place, we were asked by a broadcaster to make a few changes."

So it‘s advertising that plays a huge role. "Advertising does plays a huge role but it is, in turn, supported by what they feel is acceptable by the people. The vehicle that will carry the product to the target households. And, of course, the freshness of the subject and the ability of the production house to actually go out a deliver what has been envisaged," he is quick to clarify.

What about the BIG ONE Indian Idol? "It is a formula that has succeeded in over 60 countries and with the ‘big promotional push‘ from Sony it cannot but succeed," Sharma asserts. As an afterthought, he adds, "But India is a different ball game altogether."

The production house is obviously charged about it and is all set to ensure that the production is slick and befitting its reputation. The format and the set are similar to the original, they insist. "We are not going to introduce changes just for heck of it. The show is definitely going to adopt some cultural changes though," Sharma says.

As for the future, the company hopes to increase its profits twice over...

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