Television shows today are so much a part of our daily lives that we can’t imagine a day without them. As long as you watch a show, you become a party to the story and get as involved as the characters. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is not.
Television has undergone several phases of metamorphosis and through every phase, it has looped in various kinds of audience within its fold. So what is it that makes a show work? How do Channels take a call on what the audience wants to watch? Once on air, and once it becomes popular, what are the other factors that drive a show? So many questions run through the mind of an audience to whom a show is beyond half an hour of mere entertainment or a habit.
Rangmunch.TV connects its fans with the makers on a regular basis, but this time we bring you some answers to questions that perhaps have always been plaguing your mind, but you have had no answers to.
Vivek Bahl, who had earlier worked with Star Plus as the Executive Vice President and is now associated with the launch and setting up of Mahua Channel, shares the many what, where, how’s and why’s of daily soaps.
We take you through the answers, from the point of view of the shows he has been associated with, so that it is easier for you to understand the other side of the story.
Rangmunch.TV: Yeh Rishta Kya Keh Lata Hai has had a successful two year run, and is a show that is known for its close of real life feel. What prompted you to make a show like that during a time when high voltage dramas were the order of the day?
Vivek Bahl: Recently, I have tried to work on shows that are little more relatable to people. We try and now write characters and situations that are not exactly over dramatic like saas wanting to push the bahu off the cliff, bahu falling down and people thinking she is dead and she coming back alive with a different face. That kind of drama has slowly gone out of fashion. I don’t believe in shocking viewers. They do not like to be shocked anymore.
I wanted to make Yeh Rishta with large sets, glamorous costumes, good-looking people, and new actors since I don’t believe in stars. When you see it for a month or two, you will realize it is different from other shows due to the subtlety in the writing, wherein I like to slide in a message under the garb of it looking the same. Viewers tend to reject the message if it is done in an obvious manner.
Yeh Rishta is about a small town Indian girl and her journey from college life, being engaged to be married, to getting married. We wanted to show bit of pre-marriage phase of a girl, her college days, and her marriage and how she adapts to a new home and surroundings, leaving behind her house and friends. We focus on the littlest things in this show instead of any high drama. At the same time, for the girl everything around her is high drama.
Biggest high point in the show was Akshara’s marriage which we did over many episodes, but the biggest issue for her during the marriage was that her hair would go wrong and not something like will her marriage get called off. Because that is not every girl’s issue. It is more about how perfect she should look at her wedding. We made it an issue about her clothes and her hair, which got us high ratings because people just related to that kind of drama. The TRPs started picking up during those days and people started understanding that this show is different from the shows you regularly watch.
That it worked is better for us; if it had not worked, it would have remained just an experiment that had not worked. Lot of what you see in the show is due to the research we did among young unmarried and married girls across India. We collected information about what they like, their day-to-day issues, and we actually used these small issues one by one in the show. So its not a major issue-based show unlike others. It is a regular show about the journey of a regular girl.
Rangmunch.TV: Saathiya turned out to be a dark horse as it emerged a winner despite being placed at an early 7 PM slot. What do you think makes the show click with the audience and get numbers?
Vivek Bahl: We wanted to do a “Saas-Bahu” show and thats how the concept of Saathiya was born. We initially struggled with three writers before the show came on air. We wanted to create a fun element within the Saas Bahu drama and move away from the regular stuff we had already watched. Hence, we created the fictional characters of two cousin sisters Raashi and Gopi who are opposite to each other. They eventually get married to two brothers of the same family Ahem and Jigar, who are also very different from each other in character and nature, both the girls, get mother in laws who are also opposite to each other.
You can create formula based shows but it is extremely important that your characters are not stereotyped and predictable. It is more interesting to watch a show when the characters are not completely black or white. For example in Saathiya you will see that Kokila has her good points too while Raashi is not completely bad. She has certain amount of innocence associated with her character. She is childish. It is important to remember that there should be an element of surprise associated with your characters and consistency in the way they are portrayed.
Rangmunch.TV: So what makes Yeh Rishta Kya Keh Lata Hai score over Geet and a Navya over Dill Mill Gaye or Miley Jab Hum Tum?
Vivek Bahl: In Television, it is really difficult to pin down why something works and why it doesn’t. Having worked in the television industry for so long, I have been trying to understand it through research.
There are two different ends to it – Shows like Dill Mill Gaye and Miley Jab Hum Tum work because it gets maximum hits on Youtube but we have to balance it off with what gets us ratings. Lots of people wonder why Bidaai or Yeh Rishta does so much better than these shows. It is fair to have that view because we live in a city, we hang out with a certain kind of crowd who think all of them who we know watch the same shows we do like Geet or Dill Mill Gaye yet the ratings are so low.
This is where the other end comes in – it is important to understand that there is whole different India out there which has a very different culture, wherein the women folk can neither afford to nor do they have access to malls and the likes, so they remain at home during the evenings. Those are the kind of people who are going to watch these shows a lot. This is the reason why, at the same time, I wanted to do a show like Saathiya, a new kind of saas bahu show with smaller day-to-day issues. Because, firstly – on a channel like Star Plus we wanted to have all kinds of shows and secondly – Saas Bahu had become a bad word, but there are many people who are still interested, and am talking of people who haven’t had access to television or cable till few years ago, when Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi was aired. There have been new television viewers in India since then.
Moreover, people who want to watch more evolved, younger content like Miley Jab Hum Tum are those who have access to net, who can catch it on Youtube or even catch repeats after midnight if they want to. They have many options whereas there is a whole other universe with people who do not have other means of entertainment. It is about creating a balance.
Rangmunch.TV: Tell us something about your most recent launch Navya that came in after the launch of the new slogan Rishta Wahi Soch Nayi.
Vivek Bahl: Navya is a younger version of Yeh Rishta. It has a similar pattern but is more evolved as a story. It is again an experiment. Unlike other shows, which are set in small towns, story of Navya is based in Mumbai. It’s on Star Plus where we haven’t done a college based show for very long time now. But we want the parents to watch it equally to increase our ratings since it’s a Star Plus channel which is a mass audience. The thought was to get the parents to watch it as concerned parents – Oh God is this what our kids might do at college? Are we guiding them right or wrong, where should we step in, and when should we back out? Even though it looks like its about romance and youngsters, it is actually more about parenting and that its okay to trust your kids to do the right thing in life as long as you give them the right upbringing.
If you try to hold them back too strongly then they will go the opposite way, which is portrayed through the boy’s family, an extremist conservative family in the show. We have also tried to show many families projected as perfect family doing puja-paath, and ghoonghat, very traditional yet not overly done but still shown as an ideal family. Very subtly, without having people react to it, we are actually showing it as a wrong family. We turned around the formula of an ideal family and as we go along the show, we are going to be saying that it is not a good idea to be so traditional and stuck in what India was, and what we are. It might actually push our kids in the wrong direction. As Navya’s family, which is shown to be liberal, trying to find a right balance and where to draw a line, we need to evolve and move ahead with the times without fear of losing our culture.
I believe that every show should strongly resonate a message however subtly it is portrayed. It is important to see that message come through at all times during the show. For instance, Yeh Rishta is always in that space of a girl trying to find a balance in the family. Somewhere in the show, there is a larger thought in that when a husband and his family accept her into their family, they have to realise that she comes from another family and they have to give her certain time and openness to find a balance. It is a clear indication that Yeh Rishta’s message keeps coming through no matter what the track.
Sadly, several shows bring up big issues to begin with and then completely end up doing the opposite for the sake of drama or temporary ratings. By doing so, they mostly end up giving a message contrary to what they set out to give.
Rangmunch.TV: What do you think of a show like Geet that started off with a very strong social message but went to become only an out and out love story eventually?
Vivek Bahl: I am no longer a part of Geet. I was part of the show only for initial 3 to 4 episodes and I honestly do not know where the story is right now. So, it is tough for me to comment but I know that the show started with a strong message, which didn’t work. So due to channel compulsions, it had to change. It started working, at least in the Star One space, when they got Geet into a city and began concentrating on romance.
Unfortunately, this short-term strategy does not pay off in the long run. A show needs to have a soul, which has to be kept consistent along with the characters that people have connected with, throughout the various changes in the story. Take shows abroad like ‘Friends’ or ‘Sex in the city’ or even for that matter, Archie comics. You cannot have Archie starting to behave like Reggie. If that happens, people will neither like it nor relate to it anymore.
Rangmunch.TV: How do promotions of the shows work? Is there a deliberate attempt to use excessive promotion for certain shows over others? For eg. Bebo was promoted every 5 mins on most channels before its launch while the promotion for Iss Pyar Ko Kya Naam Doon or Diya aur Baati was low-key compared to other shows.
Vivek Bahl: In fiction, it is not about one episode, even if people do not watch the initial episodes, they may find a tenth or a twentieth episode better, the story will evolve and may kick off after 20 episodes. Hence, it is more word of mouth promotion that bodes well for such shows where people like the show and recommend it among friends and family. Fiction has the space to grow slowly and draw a larger crowd over a period of time especially by promoting the high points of the show every month or two. I personally feel it is wrong to promote it all at the beginning as people tend to develop too many expectations from the first episode that may not be met as the story take time to evolve.
For non-fiction, the format is different. It is a short-lived show with only 13 to 15 episodes so you need to bring in people right at the start to sample it. If you don’t then it becomes a problem, as it would be too late to get them to watch it in the second or third week. Here promotion plays an important role to hook the viewers’ right at the start.
Remaining parts of the interview will cover details about TAM, TRP, DVD releases, etc. So keep looking for this space to “Know it All.”
Niharika Vidya Sagar