The secret sauce behind SAB’s 2,000 episode strong Taarak Mehta

MUMBAI: Indian TV producer Asit Kumarr Modi is ecstatic about today, 11 August 2016. The 2000th episode of his long running flagship show Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah will air on Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) channel SAB this evening.

The series has been giving families in Indian TV homes, a chance to smile or laugh at the light-hearted antics and banter that its protagonists have been engaged in over the past eight years, five days a week on screen at 8:30 pm.

“I have seen Tapu sena grow up on our sets. The cast and crew is a family. We have been shooting 12 hours a day for the past eight years. This amount of time is only given to families,” says the humble and happy Asitbhai.

Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah is a story of families from a fictional Gokuldham Society with instances from everyday life. The show is inspired from the Gujarati column Duniya Ne Oondha Chashma by Gujarati columnist Taarak Mehta.

Asit shares that he used to follow this popular column in from his ninth standard and eventually ended up developing a TV show inspired by the clean comedy of the column. The show started airing in 2008.

“When i started pitching the show, that era was of saas-bahu shows. My script was rejected by many broadcasters like Star and Zee, eventually the script matched the Sab TV’s programming strategy and my past relation with the network. We went on to make the show without realising it would go on for eight years,” says Modi with excitement lighting up his eyes.

The highlight of the show is how the characters are developed through each episode. “Very uniquely and rarely it so happens that the main characters of the show resonate so well with the audience. Both Daya and Jetha have been often rated as the top 10 characters across the GEC space,” says SAB EVP and business head Anooj Kapoor.

What has helped in the longevity of the Taarak Mehta Ka.. franchise? For one, there is no single protagonist in the show. There are 24 small and big characters constantly engaging with each other. However, each character has been etched very well and has built up his or her own brand equity with the TV audiences. Be it the colorful shirts of Jethalal played by Dilip Joshi, or the signature garba of Daya played by Disha Vakani or the proud society secretary Aatmaram Tukaram Bhide (Mandar Chandwadkar), each member has his or her own significance in the story.

Asitbhai - as he known amongst friends and the fraternity - has added his personal experiences of growing up in Mumbai city. Even the well-known Gokuldham society plays a significant role in the story, which is built in a secluded corner of Mumbai film city. It cost about Rs 1 crore in 2008 to build up the society and its building. But it is renovated every alternate year. Modi giggles while saying: “I wish I had known my show would go on for eight years, then I would have built up a real property.”

At the heart of its success is its story. And the treatment in every episode which is in the able hands of writers Raju Odedra, Rajan Upadhyay, Jitendra Parmar, Abbas Hirapurwala and Niren Bhatt.

“I think the writing team is relentless and they keep innovating in terms of plots and don’t let the any fatigue set into the show because of the continuous freshness of the plot and the presence of such multiple communities automatically and naturally gives rise to the multiplicity of plots which keeps the show fresh,” stresses Kapoor.

In spite of a 150 member crew, shooting for more than twelve hours, 23 days a month with a huge cast, there have been hardly any changes over the past few years. Directors Harshad Joshi and Malav Rajda have helmed more than 1500 episodes of the show. According to industry sources, one episode of Taarak Mehta costs about Rs 14-15 lakh, with most of the amount dedicated to writers and actors who have seen their remuneration going up thanks to its sustained popularity.

“Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasmah is a microcosm of the macrocosm in the sense that it houses several communities in one housing society, the characters are real and relatable. The problems that they come across are very interesting and don’t repeat themselves, ” adds Kapoor explaining the success of the show.

A well-known TV producer credits the simplicity of the show for its success. Media planners however told that while the content is good, generally television shows have a long life in India.

“Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah is the backbone of SAB TV. The show gives the channel its maximum number of advertisers and viewers,” says television consultancy Helios Media MD Divya Radhakrishnan.

Initially, the show had fans primarily in Gujarat, but over the years it has garnered admiration nationally across segments, strata, castes, communities, and age groups. It is one of the highest rated shows on SAB TV.

According to BARC India, the show has garnered following ratings this year: from week one to eight, 5.9 million average Impressions, followed by 5.2 million average Impressions in week 9 to 12. The ratings dropped in weeks 17 to 24 with 4.8 million average Impressions and jumped back to 5.3 million average impressions in 25-30 weeks. According to reports, the show has remained in the list of top 10 comedy shows for over the past five years. Which has helped it sweep away many an award over the years; Asitbhai estimates that it is 70 plus. So far. Amongst this are many an Indian Telly Awards.

Its success has helped it attract brands to back it as well. Taarak Mehta ka… is currently sponsored by Oppo mobile and has a history of sponsors from all sectors including FMCG, automobiles, food etc. some of the past sponsors are Lifebuoy, Garnier, Ariel, Surf Excel, Cadbury. According to experts, any brand that targets family audiences would find it a good fit.

Industry experts suggest that a 10 second ad spot on Taarak Mehta.. goes for double the average advertising rate on other Sab TV shows. That, according to media agency sources, translates into Rs 15,000-20,000 per 10 seconds of ad inventory.

They further estimate that it contributes about 40 percent of the channel’s revenue.

The Taraak Mehta cast is so popular that they have been brought in to prop up other shows like CID and Comedy Nights. Additionally, they have also been associated with the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan movement which has been initiated by prime minister Narendra Modi.

SAB is celebrating the 2000th episode in grand style with a marketing blitz estimated at around Rs 1.5 crore that is to be put behind it through the year. Bus panels, large billboards, activation, digital media, radio channels such as Radio Nasha, Radio Mirchi, newspaper ads, cross channel promos – are all being used to tom tom the landmark achievement. A contest on social media has been asking fans to upload selfies wearing ooltah chashmah, which signifies positivity in life and upload it or hastag #Ooltahchasmah on twitter to win freebies. The channel is pushing the show on various digital platforms.

To keep up with the times, Asitbhai’s Neela Telefilms is launching an app called Ooltah Chashmah, where his company will release character stories leveraging the popularity of each character and other comedy content. A unique Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah app is also being lined up to release with the airing of the 2000th episode. It features games and other content but all in line with the show’s philosophy and brand ethos.

The app and mobile game have been developed by Devyani and Viral Gandhi’s VAS. The production house has also lined up an animation series based on the show targeting young audiences.

The remake rights of Taarak Mehta vest with Asitbhai and Neela Telefilms, apart from an understanding with the channel which has allowed him to retain the language dubbing rights. And it is these that he is looking at exploiting globally, apart from remaking the show for international audiences. He has appointed Madhu Entertainment headed by market veteran Hirachand Dhand to help him fulfill his objectives.

The show has set many benchmarks in India, it is to be seen how well Gokuldham gets accepted internationally,

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