Rangmunch.TV: How different is the story telling been over a decade now? We still remember very fondly a Hum Log or a Buniyaad, and when we talk about comedies, we still think of Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Dekh Bhai Dekh. In the recent times, why don’t we have shows that have the potential to be remembered fondly even after ten years?
Vivek Bahl: There are few things that contribute to our nostalgia. Firstly, during that time, there was only one show and all of India was watching it. If you actually see Hum Log today, you will realize how poorly written it is when compared to the shows written now. Even the plots were hackneyed.
Secondly, the competition today is high, options are more, and our memories are short-lived. It is difficult to remember what is going on at 9 o’clock tonight on five channels and all of them are doing pretty well. I think the writing quality has improved now but it is difficult to hold viewers interest when there are four other shows you can watch at the same time.
Another major contributing factor is that they were doing shows for one episode a week so they could write and shoot better. They had one entire week to write an episode while we have 5 episodes to write in a week since we are doing shows that are 5 days a week where the story needs to progress at a faster rate. Yet, we shoot much better, infact, everything is better compared to earlier days.
There were better Directors and Actors then. For example we had a top director like Ramesh Sippy directing a television show, Buniyaad, which is hard to imagine today, especially since it involves directing a show 5 days a week. Talent is much less in the market and they are divided amongst all the channels. I can understand the actors’ problem too where they get tired working 6 to 7 days a week. Today the industry is much tougher than before.
I think we have a tendency to romanticize the past that is another reason why we are still nostalgic about Hum Log or even Mahabharat. We are trying to create a new Mahabharat, which is something am currently working on for Star. It is written very differently.
Rangmunch.TV: Pratigya started as a show that was to fight eve teasing and harassment, but ended up becoming a show where the victim married the harasser? What is the logic behind showing something like this?
Vivek Bahl: Since I haven’t been with Star on the content for some time now, I don’t know where the story is headed right now. We were trying to tell a story involving a girl from an educated middle class family, struggling today in India, and a guy from an uneducated family having much more money because of his contacts, and muscle power. Despite that, for me, he is not a bad guy and neither is his father a bad person even though everyone thinks he is one. The father loves his son a lot and the guy has turned out the way he is due to the way his parents have brought him up in an uneducated society.
The message primarily is about finding education even though the promotion has been about eve teasing, which was designed, keeping in mind the factors that sell in a show. The larger part of Pratigya message is the importance of education which I think is the track they are coming to right now where the husband is trying to work, learn, and study and make something out of his life contrary to what his family has brought him up to be. Through the influence of an educated girl, he is trying to make himself worthy of her. I am saying that money is not everything.
Rangmunch.TV: In an ideal scenario a girl like Pratigya will never marry a guy like Krishna under the circumstances in which he forced her to get married.
Vivek Bahl: I agree, it can be seen as a wrong message, but we had a larger right message in mind. That was tricky for us to pull off as to why she should marry him. At that time, we were clear that whatever he was his love for her was pure. He was bad in the way he had been brought up, he had an attitude and all the wrong habits and everything, but at his heart, the reason why women liked him, was because he always knew that he loved her in a pure manner. He is now learning to make himself better through her love.
Rangmunch.TV: How do you re-invent yourself every now and then to avoid being predictable?
Vivek Bahl: Re-inventing is going to be a key going forward. Few years ago, the channels were very clear about it – Zee had grounded content, stronger subjects worked for Colors, Star Plus hosted shows with subtle subjects that were more emotional and no high drama. But things are changing and they need to evolve beyond this. Star Plus learnt its lesson when colors went ahead of us. We created a Pratigya, a hard-hitting show. We went beyond that and created a saas-bahu saga like Saathiya, which is presently the number one show. Because we wanted to have variety, we created a next version of Yeh Rishta, since it had become old and there was always the danger of someone coming and hitting it. We came up with Navya. Our experiments like Maryada, an edgy show, Kali, a stronger show haven’t worked to that extent. That is okay as long as we continue to experiment. I feel like other channels are still struggling with their vision. No new thoughts coming up and they have become more of followers. It is important to get into the depth of the characters instead of just trying to copy some show.
Rangmunch.TV: Ten years ago, Tara and Banegi Apni Baat, the shows that you started with were bold concepts. Were you apprehensive about breaking the mold when you shifted focus from bold concepts to daily drudgeries in an individual’s life albeit in a lavish manner, as in simple shows like Yeh Rishta? Did it ever occur to you as to why would viewers want to see a show where they get to see the same thing that they are doing in life?
Vivek Bahl: That is an interesting thought. But I thought they would be interested because they are tired. The viewers from those days to this day have changed. At that time, we did not have options for internet or going out, we used to sit and watch television together. We do feel the content was better. Those kinds of viewers have much more to do in life, they don’t have time to watch television, at least no Hindi shows, and they have many other channels to watch.
Rangmunch.TV – What is the sequence you follow once you pick up a concept for the show? Does the production house take it to a channel or vice versa? On many discussion forums, there are debates about how channel did not allow certain things that a production house was keen on. So, what actually happens when a concept is born?
Vivek Bahl: It works either ways. We came up with the concepts for Saathiya, Yeh Rishta, and Navya. So, we went out and looked for a suitable Producer and then we gave them the concept. We took the concepts for Pratigya, and Sasural Genda Phool from the Producer. It works both ways but eventually it is true that the channel has the final say in where the show is heading. At least in Star we believe it. We do listen to the Producer and see what point of view they have on a show but we have the final say because we know as a vision, as to why we are doing a particular show. The producer or the writer who may keep changing might not be as close to the vision of the show, and which track you would do and not do for that very same reason. For instance, they may come up with a dramatic track for Yeh Rishta but we may feel that it is not within the genre of the show; so we will have the right to veto, saying we don’t want to do it.
Rangmunch.TV: What is the reason behind airing Maha episodes?
Vivek Bahl: It is more of a promotional strategy to increase the reach of the show. For example, you have Navya on Colors & Uttran on Star Plus, both running in the 10pm slots, Monday to Friday. Therefore, a viewer of Uttran will not watch Navya & vice versa. However, when we air a maha episode of Uttran on a weekend, there is a possibility that a viewer of Navya might watch that episode & take a liking towards the show & may look forward to watching the next episode on Monday.
The last part 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