Struggling to find the winning mix

* Dearth of novel programming on television in 2002

* Production houses eye feature film making as viable proposition

* Smaller production houses got platform in 2002, but bigger companies harvested more

If noteworthy programming was conspicuous by its absence on mainstream channels this year, the brunt of the tragedy was borne by the production houses.


"We will be selling the movies to television channels, before having a theatrical release where we can have a revenue-sharing arrangement. The rights to the movies will be ours. We will also have the music rights. Balaji Tele-films will get into movie production only after tying up with a channel"


(The Financial Express 29 May 2002)   


The biggest gamble of the year that also turned into the flop show of 2002 was major production company UTV's brainchild, Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai (KNKKH). Stable houses like Balaji Telefilms and Creative Eye managed to churn out dependable fare but the fact that TV serials could not be the sole lifeline of a production house was underlined by forays by majors like Nimbus, Creative Eye, Cinevistaas and SABTNL into fresh territory - feature film making. Balaji had made its move into films in 2001 with the superflop that had Balaji promoter Jeetendra's son Tusshar Kapoor in the lead.

The bitter race for innovative programming among mainstream channels had an interesting fallout though - several small and independent producers, hitherto on the sidelines of software production, got a chance to prove their mettle. Shreya's Lipstick, Ashwani Dheer's Raamkhilaavan were some of the houses that went in for innovative programming and were given a platform, but on the whole, it was the big houses that channels depended on for bankable fare.

Budgets continued to rise - Cinevistaas' Sanjeevani had a million rupees earmarked for every episode, with lavish sets and intricate art direction. A similar, but smaller Dhadkan on rival Sony however gave producers Jeetu Chawla and company nightmares when they were asked to wind up the show unexpectedly by September. Game shows like Optimystix's Khulja Sim Sim and Kismey Kitnaa Hai Dam had budgets that ranged from two to 2.5 million rupees as well.

But nothing could have beat the lavish sets of the mega hope of the year - KNKKH, but its failure gave a chance to others to prove that content could beat packaging. The once powerful Siddhant Cinevision tried to wriggle back into the reckoning with Kittie Party on Zee, attempting to keep costs within control, even as it paid through the nose for actors like Poonam Dhillon, Kiran Kumar and Kavita Kapoor. Bollywood continues to feed Indian television, and Bollywood stars themselves have now decided to step a notch down and accept TV roles. Mohnish Behl and Poonam Dhillon, were among the "filmi" names that appeared this year on Indian television. This year will see two really big film stars make their bow on television though. The 80s' queen of the screen Sridevi as well as current A list actress Karisma Kapoor both will be seen on Sahara TV.

Balaji, riding high on the success of its shows, hiked its rates for Star shows by 35 per cent, even as it

continued to increase its share of commissioned revenues to over 75 per cent of the total. Not all was hunky dory for the Ektaa and Shobha Kapoor-run outfit though. Although the soap queen continued to reign on mainstream channels producing 36 hours of fresh programming every week, a foray into the comedy genre failed miserably, and Kitney Kool Hain Hum was discontinued after a short run on Zee. Neither Kuchh Jhuki Palkein on Sony nor Kammal on Zee could set the ratings afire, and Kutumb and Kkusum (both star shows on Sony) too lost steam at the end of the year, while Kahi To Milenge on Sahara is yet to catch viewer fancy. UTV, the aspirant to the throne, climbed from two shows in the top 50 to 14 by the middle of the year, posing a serious threat to Balaji on the back of its shows on Star Plus.

Balaji continues to grow however, with its sights set on regional programming and forays into overseas markets. Shobha Kapoor came in from the shadows of backroom operator to head the company as its CEO this year.

Cinevistaas, another erstwhile giant, tried a different tack and vertically integrated itself into domains like studio floors, sets, equipment hire and post production facilities by acquiring property in suburban Mumbai. Its foray into feature films flopped, but the announcement of another film indicates the production house is not disheartened by failure.

Nimbus was successful in this sphere with its first Marathi film doing well commercially and winning critical acclaim. Earlier in the year, it suffered a setback when DD News, to which it provided six and half hours of programming daily, closed down, forcing it lay off staff. Nimbus remained in the limelight for its deals with Prasar Bharati, first for the TV production of international cricket in India from 2002 to 2004 and then for exclusive handling of all ad sales of the cricket series between India and Zimbabwe last year.

Creative Eye kept its focus on mythos, converting several deities of the Hindu pantheon into bankable serials on satellite channels, and for the better part of the year keeping away from erstwhile favoured telecast partner, Doordarshan. The three feature films it proposes to produce however have no mytho theme and will be out and out commercial ventures.

The Adhikari brothers' SABTNL too, has decided to dabble in feature films even as it eyed the southern channels for remakes of its hit serials on DD. UTV, despite its KNKKH debacle, stayed stable with a clutch of serials across channels and a plan for a Canadian co-production. NDTV made Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai for Zee, paving the way for 'different' programming on the channel.

Balaji offloaded 10.11 per cent of its equity of FIIs in April, bringing its own stake down to 57.8 per cent. BAG Films (with an eye on a IPO some time this year), took on Kumkum for Star Plus, setting the trend by extracting a promise of the return of satellite telecast rights from the channel after a year of completing its run. Creative Eye, once a mammoth production house, but which suffered due to excessive reliance on the public broadcaster for years turned to satellite channels for succour.

Despite budget restrictions, originality did flow in 2002. A novel attempt by Miditech, RAAAH - an adventure reality show on Zee, could not succeed though due to lack of viewer interest. Ketan Mehta's Maya Entertainment brought cartoon character Chacha Chaudhary to life on Sahara, and Neena Gupta's Son Pari brought in the kids for Star Plus. Pentamedia Graphics and Toonz Animation were successful in producing well made series on Pandavas and Ramayan, both of which aired on Cartoon Network this year. By the end of 2002, however, it was clear that channels favoured the bigger, established production houses over those who were yet to prove their mettle, with the ratings too tilting in favour of big banner productions.

With several channels setting their sights on stepping up kids' shows in 2003, however, it should not come as a surprise if the focus of production houses too shifted from the family drama to the juvenile flights of fancy in the coming year.

(It needs noting that this report does not cover the activities of regional language production houses.)

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