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"It's a no risk, no reward situation for a producer " : Vandana Malik Executive director of TV18

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When Vandana Malik started off in television, she was an absolute novice to the medium. It was TV18 promoter Raghav Bahl who propelled his then housewife-sister to help co-ordinate his production activities in Mumbai for a series called the India Business Report. This was succeeded by The India Show (which later became The Amul India Show).

Eleven years down the line, Malik heads the entertainment programming of TV18 as its executive director. If TV18's performance in the past few years is anything to go by, she has come up trumps. The path breaking Bhanwar, Haadsa, Kya Masti Kya Dhuum are a few names that spring to mind when one thinks of TV18's impressive line-up. The company has never had many entertainment programmes on air but the few it has produced have conformed to high quality standards. Bhanwar inspired several clones- all depicting real life docu-dramas but none creating half the impact that the original did. The Amul India Show, which was the first India magazine on a satellite channel, ran successfully for several years.

Vandana, however is not too happy with the industry scenario which leaves producers with little incentive. In a candid interview to indiantelevision.com correspondent Amar, she holds forth on several issues.

Excerpts -

How did you get into television?

My brother Raghav Bahl was operating a show- India Business Report for BBC out of Delhi in 1991, when he asked that I co-ordinate some of the company's operations in Mumbai. I was a housewife then, but gradually I got more and more involved in the medium. I did not have any prior experience of production but the eagerness to learn was there. I remember simply carrying the tripods and hanging around on the shoots. That's how I learnt the nuances of the medium.

"These soaps don't look tacky. They have a glossy appearance and the screenplay is just about right - somewhere, they know the pulse of the audience"

_______

What kind of programmes do you like to take on, as a producer?

We have tried to be different and consciously restricted ourselves to docudramas and anchor-based shows. Research is our forte and it has helped tremendously in serials like Bhanwar and Haadsa.

Is there a specific reason why TV18 has not produced a soap?

No, it's just that when we started we decided to be trendsetters in a different genre - a more realistic one - depicting reality more than fiction. Now, if we venture into soaps, it'll be a case of me-too. There are so many players vying for such limited slots.

What is your production set up like?

Till about a year ago, we depended a lot on salaried employees. But this model was not working - one, because we felt that different directors had different areas of strength and the same director could normally not do justice to both a game show and a docu-drama. Two, because given the industry vagaries, keeping the company over-staffed did not make sense. So, today we follow the contractual model of employment, which is the model followed the world over.

We have an editorial staff of eight to 10 persons for Kya Masti Kya Dhuum and a shooting staff that is hired on shooting days, comprising dancers and lightmen.

Do you find the present industry situation favourable or unfavourable from a producer's perspective?

Well, I would believe the industry situation has never been favourable to a producer. One, because, of the commissioning model that leaves a maximum margin of 12 per cent or so to a producer. And two, because of the payment models, wherein you get paid much after the telecast. It's a no risk, no reward situation for a producer.

"DD's model of selling time slots to producers and allowing them copyrights and marketing rights over their programme is far superior compared to the one

adopted by foreign channels"

But where does the solution lie?

The solution lies in co-productions with the channel like the one Kya Masti Kya Dhuum is with Star.

Do you feel certain production houses have a monopoly over the best time slots?

Well, that could be true to an extent, but then these are those production houses that have delivered. I certainly don't believe that these family dramas are regressive. They are the story of virtually every household once you move away from Mumbai and Delhi into the interiors. Besides, these soaps don't look tacky. They have a glossy appearance and the screenplay is just about right - somewhere, they know the pulse of the audience.

So, I certainly don't have any grudge against these production houses- they've delivered on quality and deserve their success.

Why has TV18 never considered producing programmes for Doordarshan?Actually we started off in 1991 with foreign channels and got used to such a high level of professionalism that we became skeptical of dealing with the government run Doordarshan (laughs). But having said that, let me add here that DD's model of selling time slots to producers and allowing them copyrights and marketing rights over their programme is far superior compared to the one adopted by foreign channels.

Do you find the attitude of channel EPs interfering in your work?

Well, yes. It irks me when some funky EP who's just passed out of college tells me 'Hey that was a bad cut.' I don't mind it coming from somebody experienced but one needs to be really well versed with the medium to make a comment like that.

As producer, which areas are you personally involved with?

I'm involved with everything right from personally reading the script of all the episodes, to supervising the costumes to monitoring the shooting. Unlike many producers who simply put in their money, I'm involved with practically all departments.

What are the advantages of anchor/studio based show shows over soaps?

Well, financially I don't see any major gains because again it is the channels that set the budgets. It's basically a matter of filling a need gap. If a channel needs a kids' show, we produce it. Of course, past experience in studio based shows helps just as past experience helps anywhere.

Who are your favourite directors?

I depend on different directors for different genres of programmes. For a research-based show or a docu-drama, I would bank on Rohit Khanna whereas for a show like sya Masti Kya Dhuum, Nandini Gupta is my favourite.

Which has been the happiest moment of your career?

The listing of TV18's stock (whose issue price was Rs 180) at Rs 1900. This sparked off a spate of media IPOs, none of which was half as successful. Also, it came after a bad phase in which a fire had gutted our office in Kalkaji, Delhi.

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