‘Television has great competition coming from digital:’ Siddharth Kumar Tewary

The man who has taken the mythological and historical concepts on television a notch higher with his creative innovation, Siddharth Kumar Tewary is known for shows like MahabharatRazia Sultan and Suryaputra Karn. With exquisite images and content creation Tewary has given a new dimension to shows catering to these popular genres on Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs). Tewary’s production house Swastik Production launched its first show Amber Dhara in 2007 and since then there has been no looking back. 


The production house’s founder and creative director Tewary believes that in the coming times, digital is going to give tough competition to the television broadcast industry.


In conversation with Indiantelevision’s Sonam Saini, Tewary talks about how 2015 has been for Swastik Production, the mythological genre, OTT platforms and more.


Read on… 


How has the year 2015 been for you and your production house?

It’s been a decent year for us if not a great one. We have done a variety of shows from historical shows like Razia Sultan to dramas like Manmarziyaan. We stretched ourselves to keep us out of the comfort zone. So it’s been a good year for Swastik Production. 


A few things were appreciated by the masses, some have been appreciated by critics, while some others have been liked by the people from the industry as well. As a company, we have always believed in doing something different.


What’s your take on the mythological and historical fare on TV this year?

I genuinely believe that the mythological and historical genre is really cool. It’s time that such legendary stories with today’s technology and superior presentation take off on television. This is premium content, which is being made on a large scale.


We are making these shows relevant for today’s viewers and it's really interesting to do mythology. In period dramas, so much needs to be created and you need to transport viewers into that era. And that’s the reason why I am more than happy to do these kinds of shows. 


In the last two years you have taken mythological and historical concepts on TV to a different level with exquisite images and creative innovations. What drives you to experiment in these genres?

Thanks to Mahabharat, my belief has always been that I need to better myself with everything I do. From whatever work I have done so far, luckily with mythology I got a chance to recreate a world that has not been seen on Indian television. 


I also did the same kind of thing with Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo. People have not seen the village that we created with the story line in the show, which was a different concept altogether. The same goes with Bandhan, which  again had a different concept. So something, which is really interesting and comes with a lot of challenges to recreate is what excites me. 


I don’t do things for the sake of being different. I do it differently with all my creative efforts. The shows we do should appeal to the masses. 


Mythological and historical shows almost cost double of a normal fiction show. Is it a profitable proposition for you?

Of course, it is. I don’t think we can survive without profit in the industry but yes the cost of making these is much higher than normal fiction shows because we spend so much on everything from set decoration to costume to jewellery to locations. So since the production costs are much higher, it takes longer time to recover unlike regular daily soaps.


Also with such shows the revenue is already fixed in a way, so one needs to keep an eye on expenses, which doesn’t happen initially. Expenses tend to go higher than anticipated and hence it takes time to recover costs.


With your success in this genre, a firm perception is building that Swastik is for mytho and historical content? Do you see that as a challenge because the fact is that you do create content, which does not belong to this genre?

As a company we do all kinds of shows. If we have done mythological shows, then we have also done shows likeBegusarai and Manmarziyaan. Though we don’t do typical saas bahu dramas but yes we do differentiated content. So our company is perceived for doing different content. I don’t see that as a problem. We believe in doing creative things and right now people are thinking that we do more of mythological shows but the moment we do something different, this perception will change. 


OTT is making a lot of noise. What’s your take on the platform.

I think it’s good and it is a great time for production houses and people who create content. As a production house, we are conceptualisers and we started this company to create content. We will stick to doing that for every platform.


Netflix is about to set foot in India soon and they have already started talking to production houses. Have you been approached? 

I don’t want to comment on that. There certain things that makes the digital space very exciting and from a creative point of view, it gives us a platform where we can tell different kind of stories. Initially, the medium will remain niche and by niche I mean it will only cater to the audience, who are online.


In TV, the IP belongs to channel commissioning the content. If you start creating content for OTT, will you follow the same formula or will you keep the IP with you? 

We have already started working in that direction. So whether it's television or digital, we need to create value for the company and I think that is the space content creators should move into. And for creating that value, we need to lessen the number of projects we take on. We have to focus more on the limited content that we create, so the industry needs to change to create that value.


If bandwidth issues get sorted and digital advertising takes off in a big way, do you think digital can be a good medium or is 20 minutes of content on mobile devices a little too much?

Mobile devices are the platform to consume content through internet only. The ecosystem is constantly evolving. Earlier we used to have three-hour movies, now they’ve been cut down to two hours. 


As storytellers and creators, we need to know who we’re talking to. The most important thing is that we are talking to the younger generation today, who want instant gratification. Hence your content cannot be 20 minutes long. Sometimes if your content is that strong and it can hold your viewers’ attention, then it’s absolutely up to the creators.


Recently the TV industry has seen some negativity and the editors strike was one such example. Do you think it’s getting more and more difficult in Mumbai? Shouldn’t there be more collaboration?

I will be diplomatic if I say that there is no problem. We are facing some issues. We are currently shooting one of our shows in Gujarat. What’s more, during Mahabharat we were shooting half our shows there because of good infrastructure. So we don't face any issues on the shows that we are shooting out of Bombay. 


In Bombay, the issues that are raised by others are not always one sided. From cable and satellite point of view the Indian television industry is 25 years old now. I think very soon things will fall into place. 


Do you see the quality of content on television getting better?

It’s already getting better but it needs to raise the bar yet again. I am happy in the way that other channels and producers are investing in content these days. As a team, we need to push the quality of content more. We have great competition coming from digital. Therefore, we need to push more before someone else asks us to improve.


Indian television content is getting somewhat bold. Don't you think it can kill the family viewing factor, which has been its strength?

Television is self regulated currently. It depends on the time in which the bold content is being aired. If makers feel that their audience need that kind of content, they put it because the objective is to keep the audience hooked and not let them go away. People are sensible enough to choose what that want to see and what they don’t want. The choice is always in the hands of viewers.


Has BARC rural data impacted the dynamics of content creation?

My understanding is still limited because everybody is still figuring out the trend. It will need a couple of more months to find out the actual trends. At least now we know that what the whole country is watching. The best part is that in rural India, Zee Anmol is doing well. Till now we didn’t know what was happening. Our show Bandhan is the number three show on an all India basis!


I believe it will have a great impact on content because now we clearly know who we are talking to. So we need sharper content now.


Where is Swastik going from here? And where would you like to see it by the end of 2016?

I wish I knew but I can say that Swastik will always be around. If there’s one thing that we always knew, it’s that we have to deliver the best quality of work. Our aim is not to always play safe but to try and do something different. Taking on challenges and not being in our comfort zone is what we do.


In 2016, we would like to mix two famous television series together, which will be loved by all.

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