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Our shows celebrate the common man: Ashish Golwalkar

Sony TV's head of content talks about producing Indian Idol's 12-hour long finale.

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Ashish Golwalkar is a veteran media professional who has worked with three of the four big television broadcast companies in a career spanning 22 years and counting. An alumnus of Symbiosis School of Business Management, he wrote/co-wrote many award-winning unscripted format shows for Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, Star TV Network and now at Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India.

At Zee, Golwalkar played a pivotal role in the launch of shows like ‘Dance India Dance’ exhibiting a flair for unscripted formats. At Star India, he worked as senior vice president, programming.

In 2015, he joined Sony Pictures Network as senior creative director, (content) and headed all fiction and non-fiction format shows, and was also responsible for commissioning scripted and non-scripted shows for the broadcaster. Under his helm, SPN India went on to launch hits such as ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’, ‘Super Dancer’ and successful editions of popular franchises like ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, ‘Indian Idol’, ‘CID’, ‘Crime Patrol’ and more. In 2018, he was elevated as the head of programming for Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and was given the additional charge as head of content for digital business i.e., SonyLIV a year later. Golwalker is also a passionate foodie and amateur chef who is deeply interested in sustainable farming.

On 15 August, SPN India concluded the 12th season of its singing reality show ‘Indian Idol’ with a grand finale the likes of which have never been seen before on Indian television. The finale aired from noon to midnight featuring as many as 40 acts led by music industry’s most celebrated talent. Indiantelevision.com's Varun Markande caught up with Sony Pictures Networks India, head content – Sony Entertainment Television and digital business, Ashish Golwalkar to understand the incredible task of putting together a 12-hour episode, discovering talent via digital auditions and the growing appeal of the show at the end of its 12th season.

Edited excerpts

On pulling off a 12-hour long grand finale episode.

I would credit it to the team effort and the positive attitude of everyone. All the teams worked hard churn amid various safety protocols to wrap up this season with great splendour and fanfare. It was the biggest finale ever! For us, it was all about breaking the clutter and creating a disruption. It was a huge task in front of us. One episode is 1.5 hours long, so a 12-hours programming was equal to packaging 5-6 episodes for one finale. You have one day and you need to fill it up with 12 hours of content, there's editing, music, musicians, there's practice that happens, costumes and everything else. It’s taxing, but also very exciting.

12 years and counting. On the continued success of ‘Indian Idol’ franchise.

‘Indian Idol’ has been an exceptionally popular show and a hugely successful format for Sony (Pictures Networks India). It has introduced us to several musical talents from across the country over the years and undoubtedly changed the future of many contestants and made them stars overnight.  And one of the biggest reasons for its success is its approach. While the earlier music reality shows were more focused on following traditional norms of singing, ‘Indian Idol’ accepted and adopted the changing times and made it essential for a singer to not only sing well but also perform well as an artist.

On unearthing the finest singing talent brought in front of Indian audiences.

Our focus has always been singing and incredible vocal performance. Even though, we conducted digital auditions this year, we saw massive participation. A lot of young contestants came forward and I must say that all of them have immense potential. ‘Indian Idol’ cultivates and promotes outstanding untapped talent among the youth of India by nurturing them and providing a national platform to showcase their talent.

On building a connection with the audiences.

At Sony Entertainment Television, we have reserved the weekends for the talent. If you see, most of our shows talk about the common man, their talent and celebrate that – be it ‘Indian Idol’, ‘Super Dancer’, ‘India's Best Dancer’, or ‘Superstar Singer’ – our kids singing show. Very soon we will launch ‘Shark Tank’ too which will give an opportunity to budding entrepreneurs, and then there’s Kaun Banega Crorepati as well. KBC is not about talent but more about knowledge which the common man can again connect and seek knowledge. So, all the shows that we've developed celebrate the common man through their talent or their knowledge and I think that has been our main USP and something that is working for us and we want to continue to be invested in it.

On successfully conducting digital auditions.

During the pandemic the world has learnt how to adapt to difficult and different situations. In fact, ‘Indian Idol’ was our first show where we adopted digital auditions. The response was great, however unfortunately we could not digitalise the entire show and had to package it physically. I think we identify this as a hybrid model that was created post which we did ‘Super Dancer 4’ and recently ‘India's Best Dancer’ and ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ auditions too. There were a lot of learnings from ‘Indian Idol’ which gave us the opportunity to improvise it for other shows. Subsequently, it's a hybrid model where there will be digital auditions and then people will have to bundle episodes physically in order to witness the talent. We've been both elated and lucky that we have identified some incredible talent through ‘Indian Idol’ and other shows. The audiences are already witnessing this on ‘Super Dancer 4’ and I am sure they are enjoying it as well.

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